The cancer research charity founded by the late Olivia Newton-John (pictured) has made a significant discovery in the treatment of pancreatic cancer

Olivia Newton-John’s charity makes major cancer breakthrough

Olivia Newton-John’s final gift to the world: Late star’s research institute discovers a major breakthrough for pancreatic cancer treatment

The cancer research charity founded by the late Olivia Newton-John has made a significant discovery in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Professor Matthias Ernst, the director of the Melbourne-based ONJ Cancer Research Institute and head of La Trobe’s School of Cancer Medicine, led a study presenting a solution to the difficulties of treating one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. 

The study, published in the Cell Reports scientific journal on Wednesday, suggests a novel drug target could improve pancreatic tumours’ response to immunotherapy. 

The cancer research charity founded by the late Olivia Newton-John (pictured) has made a significant discovery in the treatment of pancreatic cancer

Professor Ernst cautioned the study was still in its early stages with years more research required before it goes to human clinical trials. 

However, he is hopeful the ONJ Institute can push the findings towards clinical trials in the future, saying the study has ‘strong rationale’ to continue development. 

‘Because we work in the same building as our oncologist colleagues at Austin Health, our discoveries in the laboratory can be quickly translated into patient trials,’ he said.

Professor Matthias Ernst, the director of the Melbourne-based ONJ Cancer Research Institute and head of La Trobe's School of Cancer Medicine, led a study presenting a solution to the difficulties of treating one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. (Newton-John is pictured with her husband John Easterling and daughter Chloe Lattanzi)

Professor Matthias Ernst, the director of the Melbourne-based ONJ Cancer Research Institute and head of La Trobe’s School of Cancer Medicine, led a study presenting a solution to the difficulties of treating one of the most aggressive forms of cancer. (Newton-John is pictured with her husband John Easterling and daughter Chloe Lattanzi)

What is pancreatic cancer? 

The pancreas is an organ behind the lower part of the stomach that aids in digestion and metabolising sugars.

Pancreatic cancer is almost completely unresponsive to immunotherapy, which reactivates the immune system to recognise and remove cancer cells.

It does not show symptoms in the early stages and spreads rapidly through the body with other treatments involving surgically removing the pancreas, radiation or chemotherapy.

The survival rate as low as 11 per cent five years after diagnosis.

Professor Ernst’s research shows inhibition of haematopoietic cell kinase (HCK), a protein found in a type of immune cell, improves the response of pancreatic cancer to immunotherapy in preclinical models.

The drug has also been theoretically proven to limit the process of metastasis, reducing the spread of cancer cells to other areas of the body.

Another member of the research team, Postdoctoral Research Fellow co-lead Dr Ashleigh Poh from the ONJ Institute, said this could mean big things for pancreatic cancer treatment because most patients suffering from it don’t respond to existing anti-cancer drugs.

‘The survival rate of pancreatic cancer has not improved over the past few decades,’ Dr Poh said.

‘We hope to eventually translate these findings into the clinic and improve survival outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients.’

The pancreas is an organ that sits behind the lower part of the stomach and aids in digestion and metabolising sugars.  

Pancreatic cancer is almost completely unresponsive to current immunotherapy, which reactivates the immune system so it can recognise and remove cancer cells.

It does not present symptoms during the early stages and spreads rapidly throughout the body, with other treatments involving surgically removing the pancreas, radiation or chemotherapy.

Approximately 4,260 new cases are diagnosed every year in Australia, with the survival rate as low as 11 per cent five years after diagnosis.

The study, published in the Cell Reports scientific journal on Wednesday, suggests a novel drug target could improve pancreatic tumours' response to immunotherapy. (Newton-John is pictured here with researchers at her cancer institute)

The study, published in the Cell Reports scientific journal on Wednesday, suggests a novel drug target could improve pancreatic tumours’ response to immunotherapy. (Newton-John is pictured here with researchers at her cancer institute)

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