DCU Research Scientist Opens New Study On Pancreatic Cancer

by Niall O'Donoghue

Credit: DCU

A DCU researcher has begun a new study on the DNA of pancreatic cancer cells in an attempt to detect early risk factors of the disease.

The study is being conducted by Dr Naomi Walsh, a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Cellular Biology in DCU.

Dr Walsh’s study builds upon research conducted by the PanScan consortium, which found regions in genes associated with risk for pancreatic tumours. Dr Walsh is developing 3-D tumour models, which would allow her to look at DNA variance in biologically relevant models.

This would allow her to “test whether or not these DNA variants can affect specific genes, and whether these affect the development of the disease,” she said.

No effective screening process has been developed to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages, according to Cancer Research UK. This contributes to a five year survival rate of less than five percent, according to The National Cancer Institute, who are collaborating with Dr Walsh for the study.

Dr Walsh described pancreatic cancer as “asymptomatic… by the time it is detected, it has spread through the body”, at which point it is incurable.

Dr Walsh said, “this work, I would hope, would give us more information on the development of pancreatic cancer. If we can understand it better, that can lead to new treatment strategies and detection strategies to improve the survival of the disease.”

Recent analysis from Pancreatic Cancer UK predicts that this specific cancer will become one of the UK’s top four cancer killers by 2026, citing an “unacceptable lack of breakthroughs into methods of diagnosing the disease early”.

Dr Walsh described a lack of research funding as “one of the major limiting factors” compared to more publicised diseases such as breast cancer.

She said, “we can now say (breast cancer) is a liveable disease, whereas pancreatic cancer is not.”

Dr Walsh’s study is being funded by a Science Foundation Ireland research grant.

Niall O’Donoghue

Image Credit: DCU