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New blood test to detect pancreatic cancer early could triple the survival rate by 2030: Researchers

In a groundbreaking development, research aimed at creating the first-ever early-detection blood test for pancreatic cancer has received crucial funding from PanKind, the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Foundation that could result in tripling the survival rate by 2030, researchers associated with the project said.

Pancreatic cancer is a formidable and often devastating disease characterised by the abnormal, uncontrollable growth of cells in the pancreas, a vital organ located behind the stomach. Known for its aggressive nature, pancreatic cancer tends to progress stealthily, often reaching advanced stages before manifesting noticeable symptoms. It is the twelfth most common cancer in terms of the number of incidences.

When cancer is identified in its early stages, allowing for surgical removal of the tumour, the 5-year relative survival rate stands at 44%.

However, only approximately 12% of individuals receive a diagnosis at this favourable stage. Conversely, if the cancer has extended to adjacent tissues or organs, the 5-year relative survival rate drops to 15%.

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The primary reason behind the low survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients is a lack of distinctive symptoms and effective screening tools for early-stage detection.

According to researchers, the initiative aims to revolutionise the landscape by introducing a test capable of accurately identifying patients in the early stages of pancreatic cancer, which could significantly advance survival rates and the overall quality of life for affected individuals.

The project aims to develop a blood-based test for the early identification of pancreatic cancer patients. The test builds on the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute's (WEHI) discovery of proteins that can identify early-stage pancreatic cancer and is expected to be used by general practitioners and oncologists in the future, facilitating early intervention and more effective treatment options, researchers involved with the project said.

According to available reports in 2023, pancreatic cancer is projected to be the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia, claiming the lives of an estimated 3600 individuals.

Dr Belinda Lee, the project lead and consultant medical oncologist at WEHI, expressed optimism regarding the grant's potential impact on translating their findings into a diagnostic test. Dr Lee emphasised the urgency of introducing early detection biomarkers for pancreatic cancer and outlined the identification of 13 proteins capable of distinguishing between the early and late stages of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most prevalent form of pancreatic cancer.

Dr Lee stressed the critical need for a reliable screening test to identify early-stage pancreatic cancer, which is currently unavailable. The research team aims to validate the identified proteins, demonstrating their reliability in screening for early pancreatic cancer.

To achieve this objective, researchers will leverage the PURPLE Pancreatic Cancer Translational Registry, a comprehensive database established by Dr Lee at WEHI in 2016. The registry, supported philanthropically, encompasses data from 48 cancer centres across Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore, tracking the treatment journeys of over 4000 patients with 2000 biospecimens currently available.

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Highlighting the significance of the registry's data, revealing that 70% of patients present with advanced disease, Dr. Lee said that this underscores the urgency of biomarkers enabling earlier detection.

By utilising cutting-edge technologies and computational methodologies, the research team aims to compare the protein signature in the blood of healthy individuals to that of pancreatic cancer patients in various stages, she added.

The anticipated outcome is the identification of potential novel blood-based biomarkers, paving the way for developing a simple, non-invasive screening test for early-stage pancreatic cancer. The ultimate goal is to provide a tool that general practitioners and oncologists can use to identify patients with the disease, enabling timely intervention and contributing to the ambitious target of tripling survival rates by 2030.

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