Researchers in the U.K. are taking up the task of developing a diagnostic that can detect pancreatic cancer much earlier than doctors are able to at the moment.
First, the team at the University of Leicester will search blood samples for tumor mutations caused by pancreatic cancer genes. If they can correctly spot the DNA, the idea is that a blood test for these mutations, once they identify them, might help paint a bigger picture of what is going on in the pancreas. The goal: to detect pancreatic cancer based on those trace blood samples, and intervene with treatment options before the disease has advanced.
That's a noble goal, considering doctors often don't spot pancreatic cancer until it has already spread, after which 5-year survival rates plunge to 5% or less. Jacqui Shaw, a researcher on the project from the University of Leicester, said in a statement that her team's approach comes down to a "forensic examination of a crime scene," searching for traces of cancer in the blood the same way that evidence is left behind at a crime scene.
In the case of the Leicester team, this is preliminary work, fueled by seed grant money from a local non-profit and the family of a local journalist who died of the disease. It parallels efforts at other institutions such as Kobe University in Japan, which came up with a blood test designed to screen for 18 metabolite biomarkers that would enable early pancreatic cancer detection. Further tests of the Kobe approach are expected.
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