By Milo Moran
Cardiff scientists have received over £370,000 to develop new ways to detect pancreatic cancer early. 25 people every day die from pancreatic cancer in the UK alone, and has the worst prognosis of any cancer. Survival rates are poor: 1 in 4 people die within a month, and 3 in 4 die within a year. Early diagnosis can make a huge difference to the patient, as treatment can begin sooner, increasing the chance of survival.
‘Cancer’ can mean any one of hundreds of diseases, but they all share similar causes and symptoms. When a cell’s DNA is damaged, this can cause a mutation which makes the cell multiply rapidly. This uncontrolled growth can cause any number of symptoms. Most mutations are caused by exposure to environmental factors, like smoking, poor diet, or radiation.
However, 90% of pancreatic cancers occur when the mutation is in a gene called KRAS. Cells with the normal form of the KRAS gene are more likely to become cancerous, but they are eliminated by other cells which prevent cancer. This suggests that the mutated KRAS gene allows these cells to avoid being detected and destroyed.
In response to this, Cancer Research UK’s Early Detection Committee have given funding to the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, who are investigating the cellular processes that cause pancreatic cancer. For example, if mutations in the KRAS gene enable cancerous cells to evade the body’s natural protections, it may be that more mutated strains are more able to do this. The better our understanding of these processes, the more able we will be to diagnose the early stages.
Cardiff University’s Dr Catherine Hogan said “we aim to understand fundamental biological events that lead to cancer”. Only 1% of people survive with the disease for 10 years, a rate which has not improved since the 1970s. Dr Hogan believes that this research will “transform the way we diagnose pancreatic cancer”, which could be a vital development for 25 people every day.