Recent discoveries, including from our laboratory, have revealed the important role played by nerves in cancer progression, and targeting nerve outgrowth in the tumour microenvironment is an emerging innovative strategy in oncology. In pancreatic cancer, it has been shown that the outgrowth of sensory nerves in the microenvironment is necessary to cancer progression and stimulates pain.

We have obtained preliminary data revealing that aggressive pancreatic cancers overexpress the neurotrophic growth factor proNGF, which is a well-known driver of sensory nerve outgrowth. In this project, we hypothesise that proNGF production in aggressive pancreatic cancers contributes to attract nerves that stimulate tumour progression. Therefore, patients could benefit from a therapy targeting proNGF to inhibit nerve outgrowth.

In this project, nerves and proNGF will be quantified in pancreatic tumour biopsies and their performance to identify aggressive tumours will be determined. In addition, the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to attract nerves via proNGF secretion will be investigated in vitro, and conversely, the impact of nerves on pancreatic cancer growth and invasion will also be analysed.

The therapeutic potential of anti-proNGF blocking antibodies developed by our industrial partner (BioSensis Lty Ptd) will be tested to inhibit nerveoutgrowth and pancreatic cancer cell growth and invasion. Together, this project will delineate the basis for a novel therapeutic strategy that would be the first to address both pancreatic tumour growth and associated pain simultaneously.


Prof Hubert Hondermarck, Prof Marjorie Walker, Dr Phillip Jobling, Dr Rick Thorne

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