09. april 2019

Researchers develop effective method to diagnose pancreatic cancer

Cancer research

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal cancer types. Only eight percent of patients survive 5 years after diagnosis. This is partly due to a shortage of symptoms during the cancer’s earliest stages. Once identified, pancreatic cancer is often so advanced that it becomes incurable.

Thus, the prospects for early pancreatic cancer detection are of enormous importance. Innovation Fund Denmark has just granted 13.1 million kroner for new and promising pancreatic cancer diagnostic technologies. Associate professor Birgitte Regenberg, University of Copenhagen’s Department of Biology heads the project. She and her research group have developed an extremely sensitive diagnostic method using what are known as 'circular DNA', a type of DNA found in blood and roughly half of all malignant tumors.

“Winning the battle against pancreatic cancer requires that we develop novel diagnostic technologies. We know that specific DNA sequences - known as circular DNA - are often produced in large numbers in cancer cells. We have been able to successfully measure these very distinct types of circular DNA in both cancer cells and blood,” says Associate Professor Regenberg.

The Innovation Fund grant will support research that can be used to diagnose early stage pancreatic cancer. The research group expects to develop technologies that:

  1. identify pancreatic cancer through blood tests.
  2. screen circular DNA in tumors to identify a ‘cancer type’ as accurately and safely as possible.
  3. classify cancer cells in individual patients, so as to implement individualized – and thereby more effective – treatment regimens.

The researchers expect this three-stage rocket to increase survival rates to 50% after 5 years.

Using circular DNA to identify cancer cells offers more than the obvious benefits to patients. The researchers also estimated the effect of clear diagnoses on Danish health care system and labour market costs. If the new technologies are introduced for pancreatic cancer screening and diagnostics, annual savings are expected to reach up to DKK 300 million.

“The Innovation Fund grant allows us to focus on getting our technology into a production phase quickly. Hand in hand with our industrial partners, we hope to move screening and diagnostic technologies into hospitals within the next five years,” says Birgitte Regenberg.

Birgitte Regenberg. Photo: Leif Bolding

Collaboration on the new diagnostic method for pancreatic cancer is between the University of Copenhagen, ChemoMetec A/S, Herlev and Gentofte Hospitals and Roche.