In conjunction with The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) we have agreed to fund a 2-year research project at The University of Manchester into profiling the molecular characteristics of stray pancreatic tumour cells from a single blood test, which seems to contain signals about what’s going on inside it. Consequently, there’s growing hope that analysing these DNA fingerprints could provide a quick, simple ’liquid biopsy’ to track tumours’ progress. From this information, Professor Dive ultimately hopes to set up clinical trials to both tailor treatments for individual patients, based on the analysis of their tumour type, and monitor the success of their treatment regimen.
Hopefully, this will allow in the future much improved and more timely treatment options for people fighting this highly aggressive cancer; a cancer that leaves little time to react or select appropriate treatments. It will allow patients to personalise their treatments rather than the current approach of crudely hitting the cancer with as much toxicity as the patient can possibly stand. Almost regardless of quality of life.
This is an important step into the newly developing area of personalised medicine for cancer patients and may also help offer earlier diagnosis, so critical in improving survival rates.
This project is costing £150k, which has now been raised, and now we are looking to raise another £150k to fund the next phase of research. Research, which if successful, could offer so much more hope than Jackie ever had.
To see a video of Professor Dive and her team talking about the research that YOU have funded, click here!
Progress to date has been very encouraging. Here is an update (sorry it’s a bit technical!)
“Tumours can release tumour cells into the bloodstream (circulating tumour cells or CTCs) and can shed small fragments of genetic material (cell-free DNA or cfDNA). The aim of the project is to establish and refine processes for extracting information from patients’ blood (contained within CTCs or cfDNA), which may inform treatment choices.
The majority of Year 1 tasks have been completed. The rate-limiting step has been identifying optimal methods for collecting minute amounts of cfDNA, increasing the quantity without introducing errors or decreasing the quality. Methods have been established, with a process called ‘making a library’ which (like a real library) can be used repeatedly as reference material to answer many questions using next-generation sequencing (NGS). NGS is a high-throughput, low-cost way of finding out the sequence of many genes at the same time. We have selected a set of genes thought to be altered in patients with pancreatic cancer. To illustrate the speed of technology evolution, when this project was first conceived this list comprised some 20 genes, 6 months ago 100, and now comprises 600 genes which can now be examined.
Sample collection from patients with pancreatic cancer began in October 2014. Blood samples from 30 patients will be collected, so far 12 patients have been recruited. Sample collection is performed by the Christie/CR-UK BioBank, who will also source tumour tissue collected from patients who had an operation as part of their treatment. We intend to compare tumour DNA with cfDNA from blood from the same patients. This will take place in the next 6 months.
Next, patient recruitment will continue and data generation from patient samples will begin. NGS produces huge and complex data sets which will require skilled interpretation. Dr Crispin Miller (senior group leader, applied computational biology and bioinformatics department, CR-UK MI) will perform this analysis. Importantly, we have worked with this team recently with similar data, which has resulted in a highly prestigious publication in Nature Medicine.
Following this project, we hope to design a clinical trial where treatment options are personalised based on the types of blood tests developed here, with the intention of substantially improving survival outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.”
And here is a communication from Maggie Blanks, Founder and CEO of PCRF:-
Dear Team Jackie Supporters,
I hope you’re still enjoying happy memories of your BathHalf experience – either as runner or supporter. As you will have seen from David’s updates just after the event, the total raised kept on increasing, boosted also by other enthusiastic fundraising organised since Bath. So what started out as a £30,000 target is now an astonishing and magnificent £130,000 – and many have also indicated their intention to keep fundraising for the Team Jackie fund.
David is keen to harness this energy and commitment in Jackie’s memory, as it offers the chance to make a significant and ongoing contribution to the research into pancreatic cancer that’s going to defeat the disease. We’ve discussed with David the possible options for doing this. We award research grants each year to scientists who have applied to the charity for funding for a particular project. The awards are made after a rigorous peer review process to ensure we fund only the best and most innovative research. Six new projects chosen this way were due to start this year and after discussion about each of them, David has chosen to commit the Team Jackie funds to a project being undertaken at the Paterson Institute, based at University of Manchester, under the direction of Professor Caroline Dive. Professor Dive and her team will analyse stray tumour cells that circulate in the blood. She hopes that her 2-year, £150k project will pave the way to profiling the molecular characteristics of patients’ pancreatic tumours from a single blood test. Tumours release DNA into the blood stream, and this seems to contain signals about what’s going on inside it. Consequently, there’s growing hope that analysing these DNA fingerprints could provide a quick, simple ‘liquid biopsy’ to track tumours’ progress. From this information, Professor Dive ultimately hopes to set up clinical trials to both tailor treatments for individual patients, based on the analysis of their tumour type, and monitor the success of their treatment regime. This is an important step into the newly developing area of personalised medicine for cancer patients. Although the project’s overall budget is £150,000, and the current Team Jackie fund stands at £130,000, David is confident that the plans he and many other Team Jackie supporters have for future fundraising events will more than cover the remaining £20,000, which will not be needed until the second year of the project. A short video of Professor Dive talking about the project will be available later in the year; and she is very happy to arrange a visit to her lab. So there will be good opportunities for you to see what you’re funding and the contribution your efforts are making to saving future lives.
Maggie Blanks, Founder and CEO