This year 600 British Columbians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There are few symptoms in the early stage, and no screening tests, so often the cancer is detected at an advanced stage. It also tends to be resistant to chemotherapy, and remains a leading cause of cancer death.
Researchers at the BC Cancer Agency and Pancreas Centre BC are working to change that.
Pancreas Centre BC
Thanks to Foundation donors, Pancreas Centre BC has become one of the top pancreatic cancer research centres in Canada. The Centre now boasts a world-class team of researchers who employ a multi-disciplinary approach to new treatments and diagnostics and have established a comprehensive tumour tissue bank and outcomes unit database.
Researchers, led by Co-Directors Dr. Dan Renouf and Dr. David F. Schaeffer, are actively conducting cutting-edge research projects including:
- Looking for the presence of tiny fragments of cancer DNA within the bloodstream, which could radically improve early detection.
- Focussing research on the use of vaccines and drugs that target specific parts of the immune pathways to improve the system's ability to contain cancer cells.
- Looking to establish whether or not excessive levels of insulin play a role in the development of pancreatic cancer. By gaining knowledge of the molecular mechanisms of insulin, it may be possible to design compounds to kill pancreatic cancer cells and spare healthy ones.
Groundbreaking research happening right here in B.C. aims to sub-type pancreatic cancer like has been done for breast and lung cancers. This will lead to better outcomes for patients by creating specific treatments for each patient based on their cancer type.
Sequencing the genetic code, or DNA, that makes up the cancer cells will help experts understand what is driving the growth of the cancer, and in turn change the course of the diagnosis, treatment and survival rate.
Through an initiative called PanGen, researchers will closely monitor patients from the time of diagnosis through to treatment, all the while genetically sequencing the tumours, and evaluating their response to treatment by regular blood tests and imaging.
“The data we get will be extremely powerful in helping us to understand how best to treat the cancer,” says Dr. Daniel Renouf. “The benefits of some medicines tend to get washed away when we target everyone with the same treatment, but they may have very positive results if tailored to certain patients.”