Australian researchers will use new cutting-edge technology to investigate how pancreatic cancer spreads and causes the severe pain patients experience.
- New cutting-edge technology will be used to study how pancreatic cancer spreads and causes pain
- Researchers are trying to study how cancer cells invade the pancreatic nerves
- Pancreatic cancer was the third leading cause of cancer death in Australia in 2021
Researchers from QIMR Berghofer, Griffith University and Garvan Institute for Medical Research will be among the first in the world to use spatial transcriptomics technology to study how cancer cells invade pancreatic nerves and interact with immune cells to better understand how cancer spreads and causes pain
Pancreatic cancer is estimated to be the third leading cause of cancer death in Australia in 2021 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2019.
Lead researcher Katya Nones says pancreatic cancer is a diverse set of diseases with tumors that have different genomic characteristics.
She hopes the project will advance scientists’ understanding of pancreatic cancer and help contribute to new and better treatments.
“The pancreas has very diverse cell types, they do many different types of jobs, and cancer is also very diverse,” she said.
“So it was very difficult for us to study them in detail because the technology didn’t allow us to just look at these cells.
“However, about 80% of pancreatic cancers have at least one thing in common – the patient’s cancer cells invade the pancreatic nerves.
“This nerve invasion is linked to the spread of cancer and contributes to the severe pain that patients experience, but we still don’t fully understand how it happens.”
Researchers will use new technology to study how cancer cells invade nerves, with the goal of better understanding the process and better treatments.
“We can now examine the gene expression of a specific group of cells in their tissue location, which we hope will reveal new interactions between cancer and nerve cells – this specific view was not possible with previous technologies,” said Dr. Nones.
“With this new technology … we can actually label the tissue and look at the microenvironment of these tumors.
“So tag the tumor cells, tag the nerve cells, and collect information about just those cells, and hopefully that will allow us to figure out what’s causing this invasion.
“We don’t know what we’re going to get until we see it, so it’s just a more focused look at this particular problem.”
The research involves Dr Nicholas West from Griffith University’s Central Genomics Centre, who is carrying out laboratory experiments on donor tissue samples from pancreatic cancer patients provided by Professor Anthony Gill from the Garvan Institute’s Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative.
Dr Nones and Dr Anne-Marie Patch from QIMR Berghofer will analyze the data together with Professor Glenn Boyle to test whether any genes involved in nerve invasion can be altered to confirm their effect.