Pancreatic Cancer

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Our pancreatic cancer research is performed in close collaboration with pancreatic cancer surgeons (Prof. Jaswinder Samra and Dr. Anubhav Mittal) and medical oncologists (A/Prof Nick Pavlakis and Prof. Stephen Clarke). Our pancreatic cancer research is aimed at improving the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate (8%) of all major cancers

Pancreatic cancer is the 5th most common cause of cancer-related death

1 in 67 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by 85 years of age

Pancreatic Cancer Research Group Leader: Dr Sumit Sahni

Dr Sahni is a Boncardo Pancreatic Cancer Research Fellow at the University of Sydney. His research is focused on the identification of unique biomarkers for pancreatic cancer diagnosis and prognosis. He is also working on the identification of drug targets and the development of novel therapies for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. His work is contributing to the development of precision medicine approach for the effective management of pancreatic cancer.


1. Biomarker identification for pancreatic cancer diagnosis

Late diagnosis of pancreatic cancer (PC) is one of the major problem in management of this deadly disease (8% survival rate). Currently, there are no biomarkers available which can selectively and sensitively diagnose PC at an early stage. In this project, using state-of-the-art approaches, we aim to identify unique biomarkers in urine and blood of pancreatic cancer patients compared to healthy volunteers. Identification of these biomarkers will facilitate early diagnosis of PC, which will lead to increase in number of patients which can be offered cure-intent surgery.

2. Biomarker identification for pancreatic cancer prognosis.

Higher Degree Research Student: Dr Shreya Mehta

Although, surgery is only cure intent treatment option for PC patients, more than 60% of patients who undergo surgery have disease relapse within 6 months. Moreover, the pancreatic resection can result in major complications and patients have highly morbid life afterwards. Thus, there is an urgent need to classify patients based on their tumour biology in order to choose best treatment option for them. This project, using advanced techniques, we aim to identify biomarkers which can predict patient outcomes after treatment. This will aid clinicians to take informed decision regarding selection of best treatment course for each individual patient.

3. Identification of Novel drug targets for pancreatic cancer treatment

PCs are inherently resistant to conventional chemotherapies and thus, have limited treatment options. This project aims to identify novel drug targets which are elevated in pancreatic cancer specimens compared to adjacent normal pancreas. These studies will be crucial for development of novel targeted therapies against PC, who have very limited treatment options.

4. Understanding the role of tumour microenvironment in pancreatic cancer progression

Pancreatic tumours have highly stressful microenvironment. The stressful tumour microenvironmental conditions can result in a variety of signalling events, which can affect critical cell survival pathways required for cancer progression and metastasis. This project, using novel 3D cell culture models, is focused on examining the effects tumour microenvironmental stress on critical cell survival pathways and their role in PC progression and metastasis.

5. Targeting cancer stem cells in pancreatic cancer

While novel therapies have been trialled in pancreatic cancer, the current standard treatment for pancreatic cancer has not significantly improved the outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients. Chemotherapy resistance is common, leaving patients without further options to control their cancer.

Dr Jansson and his team propose that we need to shift the way we treat cancer to prevent the formation and maintenance of cancer stem cells in pancreatic cancer. As such Dr Jansson’s aim is to “weed out the roots of cancer” through developing novel innovating therapies that specifically target cancer stem cells. His research identified that mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of cells that produce energy for the cells, may have a central role in maintaining cancer stem cells and thus may promote drug resistance. His project will investigate if targeting these powerhouses can destroy cancer stem cells and thereby stop the regrowth and metastasis of pancreatic cancer cells. A new treatment strategy that targets the “roots in cancer” would offer a major breakthrough for pancreatic cancer patients.

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