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Controlling pancreatic cancer stem cells

Pancreatic cancer is a lethal disease causing around 9,000 deaths per year in the UK. Most patients present late, when the disease is advanced, thus making them ineligible for curative surgery. In addition, chemoradiotherapy remains ineffective and treatment can be difficult.

Action Against Cancer is funding a team at Imperial College London who have discovered two key molecules that control pancreatic cancer stem cells. By suppressing these molecules in the lab:

  • The cancer cells became less aggressive
  • Fewer cancer stem cells formed in spheres
  • The cancer cells moved less (i.e. did not spread), as shown in these seven second films:

Pre-experiment cells

With target molecule 1 suppressed

With target molecule 2 suppressed

These two key molecules were found in high levels in samples of 100 pancreatic cancer patients, and they were associated with reduced survival. Next the scientists want to find out if these molecules can make cells respond to chemotherapy again, and how this type of therapy can be delivered for patients.

The team believe these molecules are crucial for tumour production and that treatments targeting them could save lives.

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