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28 Nov 2019

New path forward for pancreatic cancer treatment

Garvan’s Dr Omid Faridani has received the 2019 Pathfinders Award for his work developing a device that may personalise pancreatic cancer treatment.

Simon Oaten, Omid Faridani, Julie Godfrey & Jenny Grainger

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers – by the time most cases are diagnosed, the cancer is advanced and spreading to other parts of the body.

But what if these spreading cancer cells could, in fact, hold the key to guiding better treatment?

Dr Omid Faridani, recipient of the 2019 Pathfinders Award, is developing a new device that can isolate these spreading cancer cells from a patient’s blood, and look for signatures that could indicate how effective cancer treatment is.

Dr Faridani is a Group Leader at the Garvan-Weizmann Centre for Cellular Genomics and says the $10,000 awarded by Pathfinders – a collective giving group who pool donations to support early-stage cancer research projects – will assist in kick-starting the innovative new project.

“It’s encouraging to receive funding at the initial concept stage,” says Dr Faridani. “I’m humbled to be the recipient of the 2019 Pathfinders Award and hope that it will help leverage the cellular genomics expertise we have to find better treatment paths for pancreatic cancer.”

An innovative approach

Pancreatic cancer is one of the world’s most lethal cancers, with a 5-year survival rate of just ~9%. Knowing early which treatments are working, and which are not, has the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes.

“We know from other cancers that analysing the profile of these circulating tumour cells, otherwise known as CTCs, can help provide a prognosis on how well a patient is responding to treatment.”

“We have developed a more accurate way to profile CTCs, based on their gene expression. However, isolating cells from a patient’s blood sample for this type of analysis is difficult – current methods are either too time-intensive or damage the cancer cells in a way that prevents us from analysing them,” explains Dr Faridani.

The Pathfinders Award will enable Dr Faridani to develop a new microfluidic device that can isolate CTCs from a patient’s blood sample in a more gentle way than current methods. These isolated cells will then be analysed using a single cell sequencing method recently established at Garvan.

Personalising treatment

After refining his method, Dr Faridani will investigate whether CTCs can be used to predict how well a patient is responding to pancreatic cancer treatment.

“We hope the new device will enable us to uncover signatures that can help predict the response a pancreatic cancer patient is having to a specific treatment sooner, so that oncologists can optimise a patient’s treatment. Such a personalised approach has the potential to change outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients worldwide.”

The 2019 Pathfinders Award was presented to Dr Omid Faridani in the Curran Foundation Library at the Garvan Institute last night.

Simon Oaten, who heads Pathfinders, said, “We’re delighted to support Dr Faridani explore this bold idea to develop a device to personalise pancreatic cancer treatment and look forward to hearing the outcomes of the pilot study.”