Improved treatment in process to combat pancreatic cancer

The Faculty of Medicine at Lund University has various ongoing collaborative projects with Skåne University Hospital where academic research is being integrated into clinical applications. The Department of Clinical Sciences has spent many years building up a strong research profile in which the cancer research is one of the most prominent areas of expertise.

Pancreatic cancer is a particularly difficult form of cancer as it is hard to detect at an early stage. This type of cancer has gained a lot of publicity in recent years due to the high mortality rates associated with it, where surgery is currently the only potential way to achieve prolonged survival. Promoting early diagnosis and new ways to develop personalised and targeted treatments, as well as improved early diagnosis are the main purposes behind the research.

A rare but deadly disease
Pancreatic cancer most commonly occurs in older people, three-quarters of the patients are over the age of 65. The disease is about as common among men as among women. Each year about 900 people in Sweden are diagnosed with this type of cancer, but only in 15 percent surgical resection is possible. The main reason is that the symptoms are so vague and they do not present themselves until the later stages of the disease. The most common symptoms are jaundice, abdominal pain and loss of appetite and weight. There is also a weak connection between new onset type II diabetes and pancreatic cancer.

Surgery the only cure
Chemotherapy is used for treating pancreatic cancer and it slows the process of the disease, but it is no cure. The only potential possibility of survival is through surgery and concomitant (adjuvant) chemotherapy. Because the disease is so difficult to identify, the actual detection of the cancer is commonly not managed in time and the chance of achieving survival is then lost as surgical resection is no longer an option.
“Early diagnosis is one key”, says Professor Roland Andersson, who has been involved in prominent pancreatic cancer research for many years. “We have identified a link between pancreatic cancer and diabetes. The risk of developing this type of cancer is more than doubled for patients with new onset type II diabetes. Biomarkers for early detection are now under investigation”.

Resistant cancer cells
In addition to early diagnosis, improved treatment is needed. “This particular type of cancer is quite resistant to existing chemotherapy treatments”, explains Associate Professor Bobby Tingstedt, who has worked with Roland Andersson in a number of cancer projects during the years. “We have discovered that only about one third of the patients are able to adequately respond to treatments available, mainly due to lack of appropriate receptors on the surface of the cancer cell”.

Novel targeted therapy
Ongoing extensive studies on receptors and biomarkers in cancer tissue and blood provides prognosis, prediction, and guidance of type of therapy and also serve as a tool for the present targeted nano-oncological drug delivery treatment studies (1 nm = 10-9 m). “By this the chemotherapeutic agents reach specifically the cancer tissue and minimise unwanted side effects” says Carlos Urey and Daniel Ansari, leading the multidisciplinary drug delivery concept together with Professor Andersson.

More funding needed
Statistics for people with pancreatic cancer are very negative. After five years, only one to three per cent of the patients are still alive. Life expectancy is about 22 months in the best case scenario where the patients received surgery and thereafter got treated with chemotherapy that they were able to respond to.
“The need for new knowledge in the field is eminent. We need to get more resources in order to conduct research that ultimately enables both early diagnosis and better treatment. If we compare with other cancers, such as breast cancer, we see that success in treatment outcome can be connected to the resources and funds invested. If we can get similar conditions for research on pancreatic cancer, I consider it quite possible that we will have better diagnostic and treatment options in place within a few years”, a hopeful Roland Andersson concludes.

For more information, please contact Roland Andersson (

Swedish Life Science SNL 2013-2 - Affärstidningen Näringsliv

Näringsliv 2013-2

Huvudtema: Swedish Life Science
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