The pancreas is a gland of the digestive system. The causes of pancreatic cancer are unknown, but smokers are at greater risk. Likewise, the causes of colorectal cancer (including bowel cancer) are unknown but smoking and increasing age are risk factors.
Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in Australia, with a five year survival rate of around 5%. (Source – Cancer Council Australia). The treatment and survival of patients with pancreatic cancer has not changed for over thirty years because there has been little research into the molecular and cell biology associated with it. In collaboration with researchers across the globe, Hunter researchers have been able to view whole human genome sequence, and in more detail at a DNA level.
Results published in the prestigious journal Nature revealed that after sequencing 100 pancreatic cancer genomes, there was 4 distinct subtypes that may help guide future patient treatment. Those patients with ‘unstable’ genomes tended to respond well to drugs which damage tumour DNA or prevent cancer cells from repairing DNA damage and die.
Excitingly, Hunter researchers have also developed a dedicated centre for the development of novel therapeutic agents based on these specific genetic subtypes of pancreatic cancer that are non-responsive to conventional therapies. This has the potential to have a profound impact not only on future PC treatments, but to serve as a model for developing new therapeutic interventions in other cancers.
Hunter researchers are also working towards better detection and characterisation of colorectal cancer and rare cancers, using state-of-the-art next-generation DNA sequencing techniques. Using this cutting-edge technology, Hunter researchers are able to process samples from up to 40 patients simultaneously instead of individually, and where data analysis previously took three hours per person it now takes just 10 minutes.
“To screen 1000 people for a study would take 18 months with the old technology whereas we could now do it in six to 10 weeks using the new sequencer,” Professor Rodney Scott, from the University of Newcastle, said.
New studies targeting novel molecules that are expressed in bowel cancer cells are also underway with Hunter researchers, constantly searching for new and efficient treatment methods.