Samples generously provided by pancreatic cancer patients allow researchers to explore tailored therapy treatments.
Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease. Seldom detected in its early stages, it typically spreads to other organs before it’s diagnosed, making it the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in Western societies. Sadly, the five-year survival rate is only around nine percent.
The treatment and survival rates of patients with pancreatic cancer have barely changed in the past 30 years. This is due to the complexity and molecular variation in the disease. However, Garvan’s pancreatic cancer research teams are searching for a new understanding of how this disease develops, better ways to treat it and how to stop it spreading. And patients like Gary are helping with this research.
In 2011, Gary began experiencing symptoms like sudden weight loss, itchy skin and dark urine. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent surgery to remove his tumour. Despite the worry and stress that his diagnosis had caused, Gary recognised that he was in a position to help Garvan’s pancreatic cancer research team by donating a sample of his tumour to them.
Gary’s tumour sample is part of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative (APGI) – a biobank of over 4,000 patient samples. In a world-first global study, researchers use these samples to investigate the underlying genetic events to lead to pancreatic cancer.
The APGI has mapped the genome of pancreatic cancer in a landmark effort, as part of Australia’s contribution to the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC). This work has revealed valuable information about the extreme complexity of how pancreatic cancer develops, which is proving to be unique for each patient from a genetic point of view.
The genomic data has also provided researchers with the power to identify key genetic ‘targets’. These will allow clinicians to pinpoint new treatment strategies, as well as personalise treatments for patients, based on the biology of their tumours.“We are looking at developing new ways to treat pancreatic cancer where the right treatments are given to the right patients and the therapy is tailored according to the biology of each individual patient tumour,” says Associate Professor Marina Pajic, who leads the team at Garvan unlocking the molecular biology of pancreatic cancer. But it is only with the generous support of patients willing to donate tumour samples that this research can be done.
Gary is one of the small number of patients who survive pancreatic cancer. He is now enjoying life with his family and friends. This vital partnership between forward-thinking donors like Gary and dedicated researchers around the globe means improved treatments for pancreatic cancer are within reach. New clinical trials are underway at Garvan, with the aim of giving more patients with pancreatic cancer outcomes like Gary’s.