The team’s research project has focused on the investigation of pancreatic lesions called ‘cysts’, in particular being able to spot changes in cells which would support a more accurate diagnosis of cancer and enable surgeons to operate accordingly.
The most commonly used diagnosis methods are still somewhat crude, making it difficult for a clinician to determine the exact nature of a lesion or cyst and, crucially, whether it is cancerous or likely to turn that way. As a result, many patients undergo major surgery on larger cysts, only for a surgeon to find the lesion was not cancerous, yet the patient can then be left with long term effects such as significant pain or difficulty absorbing food for the rest of their life.
The team has already recruited 168 patients to the study, with an overall target of 180 people across the lifetime of the project.
Professor Maraveyas said: “Our aim is to be able to identify changes in cells which will give a more accurate picture of what’s happening in a minimally invasive way.
“The team uses conventional radiology techniques, including endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), to look at cysts and take small samples of fluid to test for biochemical changes, known as tumour ‘markers’. The presence of the markers could help to detect cancer early, and conversely, their absence could help prevent unwanted surgery.”
The study also incorporates the use of platform technologies, a form of cell research which is being championed by the University of Hull and which is very much seen as the future of cancer diagnostics worldwide. Using these platform technologies, the ambition is to obtain cyst fluid ‘signatures’ that will provide an accurate diagnosis of the type of cyst the surgeon is dealing with. In turn, this will enable treatment to be tailored specifically to each patient and is likely to reduce the number of patients undergoing avoidable surgery.
Academics Dr Leonid Nikitenko and Dr Camille Ettelaie, who are also principal investigators on this study, from Hull York Medical School Centre for Biomedicine played a central role in the scientific design and delivery of the laboratory part of the project, propelling the study to its current success despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Nikitenko's group utilised High Performance Computer VIPER to pioneer the establishment and use of a range of platform technologies (including proteomics, genomics, transcriptomics and high content imaging/microscopy) at the University of Hull for the analysis of clinical samples, including pancreatic cyst fluid, while Dr Ettelaie 's group investigated the association of haemostatic regulators with pancreatic cancer development.
The innovative and multidisciplinary nature of the TEM-PAC study has attracted support from the National Institute for Health and Research, which has placed two academic clinical fellows (ACF) in the oncology department at Castle Hill Hospital, and a clinical lecturer post will also start in September 2023. This is the first time the oncology department has ever hosted such roles.