Associate Professor Matthew Flick. Professor Marie Ranson, Dr Benjamin Buckley. Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

Fighting to find a cure for secondary pancreatic cancer tumours

It is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in Australia with most patients diagnosed succumbing to it in less than five years after diagnosis.

A team of researchers at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) are looking for potential drug treatments for cancer cells that are secondary to the main tumour.

“Current treatments remain largely ineffective and there have been no major breakthroughs in the last two decades,” said IHMRI researcher Dr Benjamin Buckley. 

“New drug candidates show positive results by inhibiting the uPA enzyme that is used by pancreatic cells to spread through the body, by inhibiting uPA, these candidates may be able to halt the deadly metastasis observed in pancreatic cancer patients.” said Dr Buckley.

IHMRI researchers including Professor Marie Ranson and Associate Professor Michael Kelso, are also working to identify drugs that help with common side effects of treatment.

“Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is among the most lethal malignancies and the 5 year survival rate for patients with metastatic disease only 2%,” said Professor Marie Ranson.

“The group have also recently discovered new drug candidates that could be used to treat chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) – a common side-effect of chemo drugs that significantly impacts the quality of life of cancer patients,” added Dr Buckley.

On July 11 2019, IHMRI researchers hosted a Pancreatic cancer workshop.

The workshop was attended by researchers from Ingham and Garvan Medical Research Institutes along with visiting international guest  Associate Professor Matthew Flick from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Collaborating with other researchers gives us a deeper insight into pancreatic cancer and highlights how we can work together using clinically relevant mouse models to find improved treatments for this disease,” Dr Buckley said.

As a result of the workshop IHMRI researchers Professor Marie Ranson and Dr Kara Vine-Perrow have been invited onto a large collaborative pancreatic cancer translational programme grant in second stage peer review led by Garvan and Ingham Institute colleagues.

Shoalhaven Heads resident Graeme Philpott, also attended the workshop to get an update on the research that he continues to advocate for.

Mr Philpott knows too well how devastating pancreatic cancer is.

His wife of 55 years, Jan, died less than two years after she was diagnosed with the disease.

“Jan went to the doctors one morning with a pain under her ribs, after a blood test and CT scan we were told by the end to the day she had pancreatic cancer,” Mr Philpott said.

“Given the statistics, we knew Jan would need a miracle to survive this silent killer.”

After investigating latest treatments and research on the disease, Mr Philpott discovered IHMRI and its local team of researchers.

He raised funds for research in lieu of flowers at Jan’s funeral and donated some of his own money to support the work at IHMRI.

“Funding is scarce for this research so I’ll continue to do everything in my power to advocate for more money so this vital work at IHMRI can progress to the next stage,” added Graeme Philpott.

About 3080 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year. Of these people around 2800 will succumb to the disease.

It is estimated to be the tenth most common cancer in makes and ninth most common in females.

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Media coverage

Illawarra Mercury

16 July 2019: Graeme Philpott’s push for funds to boost pancreatic cancer research at IHMRI

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Top photo: Associate Professor Matthew Flick, Professor Marie Ranson, Dr Benjamin Buckley. Photo by Trudy Simpkin.

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