PanKind Grant

Funding success to help fight one of the deadliest forms of cancer

17 November 2022

The Institute’s Professor Nigel Turner is part of a team that has been awarded $300,000 from the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation (PanKind).

Professor Nigel Turner in his laboratory at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

Professor Turner’s New Treatment Accelerator Grant, which was announced on World Pancreatic Cancer Day, will help accelerate new and improved treatments to patients.

Professor Turner, who is head of the Institute’s Cellular Bioenergetics Laboratory, says: “Only around 10 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will be alive within five years of diagnosis. Unlike many other types of cancers, that figure has remained largely static for years and there is an urgent need for us to both better understand how this disease progresses and design far more effective therapies.”

Professor Turner’s project focuses on how cancer cells metabolism. Cancer cells are well known for their ability to rewire their metabolism so they can use nutrients to expand and grow.

By utilising advanced mass spectrometry facilities at both the Institute’s Innovation Centre and at partner institutions, the team, including the Institute’s Dr Sarah Hancock, will profile metabolic changes during the development and spread of cancer and during the development of resistance to chemotherapy treatment. This is especially crucial as pancreatic tumours respond poorly to chemotherapy.

Metabolic changes have been explored in some cancer types, but they have not been well defined in pancreatic cancer, particularly alterations in lipid metabolism.

The project team has already discovered a novel lipid metabolism pathway that is activated as pancreatic cancer cells develop resistance to chemotherapy. In this project, the team will test whether targeting this pathway leads to improved treatment outcomes in pre-clinical models of pancreatic cancer.

Professor Turner says: “Our goal is to target the most prominent metabolic pathways we identify to see if we can reduce the growth and spread of pancreatic cancers and their ability to become chemoresistant. Whilst this is an early-stage investigation, our longer-term goal is to provide additional therapeutic options that might be deployed in pancreatic cancer patients.

While this work focuses on pancreatic cancer, it’s hoped the findings could also help develop potential therapeutic options for other diseases where cells undergo similar metabolic adaptations.

The investigator team also includes researchers from The University of Wollongong (Shane Ellis), Queensland University of Technology (Stephen Blanksby), Garvan Institute of Medical Research (Paul Timpson) and University of New South Wales (Phoebe Phillips).

According to PanKind only three out of 10 people (35.5%) will survive one year after diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Over 4500 people are diagnosed each year, with the disease claiming virtually the same number of lives as breast cancer this year.

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Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

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