The cancer research charity founded by the late Olivia Newton-John has made a significant discovery in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Professor Matthias Ernst, director of the Melbourne-based ONJ Cancer Research Institute and head of La Trobe’s School of Cancer Medicine, led a study that presented a solution to the difficulties of treating one of the most aggressive forms of cancer.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal Cell Reports, suggests a novel drug target could improve the response of pancreatic tumors to immunotherapy.
Professor Ernst warned that the study is still in its early stages and years of more research are needed before it moves into human clinical trials.
However, he hopes the ONJ Institute will be able to translate the findings into clinical trials in the future and says the study has “strong reasons” for development to continue.
“Because we work in the same building as our fellow oncologists at Austin Health, our discoveries in the lab can quickly translate into patient studies,” he said.
Professor Ernst’s research shows that inhibiting hematopoietic cell kinase (HCK), a protein found in a type of immune cell, improves the response of pancreatic cancer to immunotherapy in preclinical models.
It has also been theoretically proven that the drug limits the process of metastasis and reduces the spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body.
Another member of the research team, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Co-Lead Dr. ONJ Institute’s Ashleigh Poh said this could mean big things for the treatment of pancreatic cancer because most patients who develop it do not respond to existing cancer drugs.
“The survival rate from pancreatic cancer has not improved over the past few decades,” said Dr. Poh.
“We hope to eventually transfer these results to the clinic and improve the chances of survival for patients with pancreatic cancer.”
The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the lower part of the stomach and helps with digestion and sugar metabolism.
Pancreatic cancer responds almost completely to current immunotherapy, which reactivates the immune system so it can recognize and remove cancer cells.
It presents no symptoms in the early stages and quickly spreads throughout the body, with other treatments including surgical removal of the pancreas, radiation, or chemotherapy.
About 4,260 new cases are diagnosed in Australia each year, with a survival rate of just 11 percent five years after diagnosis.