'New research hope' from pancreatic cancer tissue bank
Medical researchers hope a new bank storing tissue from patients will give them a clearer insight into pancreatic cancer.
This complex illness has the worst 10-year survival rate of any cancer, with most patients being told they may have less than a year to live.
The bank will collect samples from six hospitals in England and Wales.
The charity that funded it hopes there will eventually be better treatments and earlier diagnosis.
There are 8,875 cases of pancreatic cancer a year in the UK, with almost the same number of people dying from it annually.
Just 1% of sufferers are alive 10 years after diagnosis – a survival rate that is unchanged in 40 years.
Researchers now hope they will be able to improve this dismal picture.
Barts Cancer Institute has praised the "vision and determination" of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF), which raised £2m to fund the bank.
Samples will be collected from consenting patients at six hospitals – in Swansea, Leicester, Oxford and Southampton and Barts and the Royal Free in London.
The tissue will help scientists study genetic changes in the cancerous cells.
The bank will store actual tumour samples – as well as blood, saliva and urine in which proteins indicating cancer can be found – from about 1,000 patients a year.
The aim is to be able to detect cases more quickly.
Prof Hemant Kocher, from Barts Cancer Institute, told me: "Surgery is possible in only about 10-15% of patients with pancreas cancer at the moment.
"We hope this tissue bank will help us develop diagnostic tests so that more patients can have surgery.
"If diagnosed early enough, they can have surgery.
"It is about the only thing that can give a long-term cure for these patients.
"Pancreatic cancer is a complex disease, with a number of alterations in the cancer cells and the cells surrounding the cancer.
"And it's a deep-seated organ, so tissue isn't always available.
"This means research has really been set back."
The PCRF's founder, Maggie Blanks, said: "A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will not only ensure that more samples become available to researchers, but that these are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for the very best research to be carried out."
Carol Hayes, from Basildon, was among the first patients to donate tissue to the bank, during a gruelling seven-hour operation last year.
So far, she is clear of pancreatic cancer, though she still needs six-monthly check-ups.
Ms Hayes said: "It was the only thing I could give back to say thank you and to try and help, because I was borderline lucky.
"Maybe another couple of months down the line, I wouldn't have been able to have the op.
"They said I was borderline, and so many with pancreatic cancer aren't.
"I saw my enemy, the tumour, on a scan.
"It's like I put it in a box and handed it over – so someone could do good with it."
'Downhill very fast'
Adrian Morrish's wife, Noreen, died from pancreatic cancer within a year of being diagnosed, at a time when they should have been planning their golden wedding anniversary.
He said: "It was a terrible period because I was watching somebody who'd had a very active life go downhill very fast.
"It was an appalling year.
"It was a nightmare when the chemotherapy stopped working.
"It was extremely hard for all the family – they lost their mother and grandmother.
"I realise now what an appalling disease it is, with a minimal survival rate.
"That's why it's so important research projects continue."