Scots scientists lead cancer resistance trial

Pancreatic cancer survivor Noreen Leighton. Picture: contributed
Pancreatic cancer survivor Noreen Leighton. Picture: contributed
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A drug that could make cancer cells more responsive to treatment is being trialled in Scotland for the first time.

Pancreatic cancer patients whose tumours have grown too big to be removed surgically but have not yet spread around the body will be the focus of work by scientists based at the Beatson Cancer Centre, in Glasgow.

Noreen Leighton says taking part in a trial helped save her life. Picture: Pat Morrissey

Noreen Leighton says taking part in a trial helped save her life. Picture: Pat Morrissey

Doctors will give patients a drug called olaparib alongside standard chemotherapy and radiation, which they hope with shrink the tumours so they can be operated on.

Radiotherapy, and some chemotherapy drugs, works by causing damage to DNA in cancer cells but when the cells repair this damage, then the tumours become resistant to treatment.

Scientists believe that this drug could help to prevent cancers from becoming resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy by preventing a vital enzyme from reparing DNA.

Professor Jeff Evans, chief investigator at Glasgow University, said: “This is the first time we’re looking at ways to make pancreatic cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy.

“One way to make pancreatic cancer a more treatable disease is to shrink the tumour enough to make surgery a possibility and we hope to see that happen in this trial.”

Cancer survivor Noreen Leighton, from Stirling, hailed the news as she said taking part in a Cancer Research UK trial during her treatment played a huge part in her survival.

The 58-year-old said: “When my doctor told me I had cancer I was in a state of disbelief. I was sure they had made a mistake.

“After I had an operation to remove the tumour, my doctor enrolled me on a clinical trial and that’s the reason I’m here and able to spend time with my two beautiful grandchildren.

“Research transformed my life and now I live in the moment of every day. Pancreatic patients urgently need new treatment options and the only way to find these is through research.”

In Scotland, pancreatic cancer incidence rates have increased by 12 per cent over the past 10 years

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “Around 9,400 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK and it remains a very difficult disease to spot at an early stage, making it much harder to treat.

“Despite this we are making steady progress through research and trials like this one.

The trial will take place in Glasgow, Belfast, Leicester and London.