17 December 2015

National charity Pancreatic Cancer UK has today announced funding of £18,000 to a research team based at London Cancer and Medefer, which will seek to develop a tool to help diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier.

Professor Steve Pereira, Dr Andrew Millar and their team aim to develop an online questionnaire, which people would use to describe their own abdominal symptoms such as stomach pain, a common early symptom of pancreatic cancer. The year-long project will be based at London Cancer, a partnership of NHS, academic, charity and cancer specialists, and supported by Medefer.

The online questionnaire will be tested in clinics and new diagnostic centres where people with abdominal symptoms are referred by their GP. Patients will be asked to fill in the questionnaire giving their take on their own symptoms, which consultants at the centres will then look at along with information from the patient’s GP. The hope is that this will aid the clinician in making a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer sooner or for the disease to be ruled out for a different diagnosis to be made.

The ultimate hope is that if successful, the research could then lead to the development of an effective online diagnostic tool to help GPs navigate patients to the right diagnostic tests sooner. Earlier diagnosis of disease, including pancreatic cancer, would mean patients would be more likely to live for longer.

The announcement of the grant comes after NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) launched new guidance to help GPs achieve early diagnosis, in June 2015.

Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a point when the disease has spread, which often means that surgery, the only curative treatment, is not an option.

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK, yet receives only 1.4% of the total cancer research spend in the UK. The disease has the worst survival rate of all the 21 most common cancers in the UK, with just four per cent of patients surviving for five years or more.

The grant has been made as part of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s innovative new Clinical Pioneer Awards Scheme, which funds research in a clinical setting by surgeons, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals. The Scheme funds research into improvements in existing care and emerging treatments, with the aim of improving care for current patients as well as those diagnosed in the future.

Dr Millar said: “We are delighted to have been selected by Pancreatic Cancer UK as one of the first recipients of this new type of research grant. The Clinical Pioneer Awards Scheme is a fantastic opportunity for clinicians who already work in the field to make a positive contribution in improving the care and support provided to pancreatic cancer patients, carers and families.

“We believe the development of our online questionnaire – with the support of our Clinical Pioneer Award – has the potential to bring real benefit to patients and healthcare professionals alike at the start of their initial investigations and subsequent patient experience. Small projects such as this traditionally may not be eligible for standard research grants – but still have the potential to make a big difference.”

Dr Bahman Nedjat-Shokouhi, Managing Director of Medefer said: “Pushing the boundaries of medicine increasingly requires innovative approaches to research and closer collaboration between NHS, academia and industry. Medefer has been founded and is led by clinicians and academics to innovate within healthcare and push the boundaries of our medical knowledge. It is a privilege to be a partner in this research that is supported by Pancreatic Cancer UK.”

Alex Ford, CEO of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “We are very excited to be funding this research in London, which we hope will allow more people with pancreatic cancer to live for longer. Tragically, the disease has shocking survival rates, with just four per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis.

“But we know the sooner people are diagnosed, the longer they are likely to live. This research could ultimately help to change the prognosis of the disease and that is why it is so important.

“We are also delighted that Steve and Andrew, as physicians, will be leading this project and will join the other healthcare professionals whose research our Clinical Pioneer Awards are funding. In our ongoing quest to improve treatment and care for pancreatic cancer patients, we believe it is vital to harness the expertise of everyone who supports people with the disease, and this scheme is an innovative way of doing that.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK awarded four other grants under the Clinical Pioneer Awards Scheme, to researchers and clinicians based at institutions throughout the UK, including Manchester, Leicester, Birmingham and Newcastle.

Find out more about Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Clinical Pioneer Awards.