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New Treatment Grant for Pancreatic Cancer

16 November 2023

Pancreatic cancer is the eighth most diagnosed cancer in Australia and has the lowest survival rate of all major cancers because the symptoms are vague and the disease is often not found until it has progressed.

Devlin headshot

For World Pancreatic Cancer Day, the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation (PanKind), is trying to change that by funding research into better treatments and earlier detection.

Peter Mac researchers Dr Jennifer Devlin and Professor Ricky Johnstone received a New Treatment Grant from PanKind for their research project called ‘Targeting oncogenic Pol-II transcription cycles using cyclin-dependent-kinase inhibitors: a new therapeutic approach for pancreatic cancer.’ 

“People with pancreatic cancer are presented with treatment options that have limited efficacy and severe side-effects,” said Dr Jennifer Devlin, postdoctoral researcher in the Johnstone Lab at Peter Mac.

“Less than one in nine patients survive more than five years after their diagnosis, so more effective treatments are desperately needed.”

Dr Devlin explained that the project will test the response of human pancreatic cancer cells to drugs that block a process called ‘transcription’ which is how cells read their genetic information.  This process does not function normally in cancer cells leading to changes in how the cells grow, divide and behave.

“We will investigate if anti-transcription drugs can be used in combination with existing pancreatic cancer therapies to better block pancreatic cancer cell growth and survival,” said Peter Mac Executive Director of Cancer Research, Professor Ricky Johnstone.

“We believe this research project can deliver a new therapeutic strategy that may both extend the lifespan, and improve quality-of-life, of people living with pancreatic cancer.

“It is estimated that more than 4,500 Australians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2023 and we hope that we can improve outcomes for those diagnosed in the future,” he said.

The pancreas is an important organ for the production of digestives enzymes and insulin.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include pain in the abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, change in bowel habit including diarrhoea, constipation or the feeling of incomplete emptying and jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes, and dark urine).*

If you would like to fund further research please visit the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation.

*Cancer Council