Olivia Newton-John’s cancer research institute announces major breakthrough

The cancer research institute founded by the late Olivia Newton-John has made a breakthrough in the potential 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 team conducting a study that may have revealed a discovery in the treatment of one of the most aggressive and threatening types of cancer.

The team published the study in the open-access journal Cell Reports on Tuesday, concluding that the use of a novel drug may lead to significant benefits in the treatment of this pernicious cancer. The study’s summary describes pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC, a type of pancreatic cancer) as “an aggressive disease with a low 5-year survival rate and is associated with poor response to therapy.”

Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to treat as it does not present symptoms in early stages and spreads quickly through the rest of the body. The cancer is also almost entirely unresponsive to immunotherapy, a process in which the immune system is reactivated causing it to identify and remove existing cancerous cells.

Professor Ernst’s research shows that hematopoietic cell kinase (HCK), a protein found in a type of immune cell, plays an important role in the survival of a patient. The study finds an observation of elevated expression of HCK is correlated with a reduction in patient survival. To determine the role HCK plays in PDAC growth and metastasis, the team established PDAC tumors in the lab. Suppression of the protein then led to a “minimized metastatic spread, enhanced the efficacy of chemotherapy, and overcame resistance to anti-PD1, anti-CTLA4, or stimulatory anti-CD40 immunotherapy.”

The summary concludes that their results “provide strong rationale for HCK to be developed as a therapeutic target to improve the response of PDAC to chemo- and immunotherapy.”

Per the Daily Mail, Dr. Ashleigh Poh, another member of the research team at 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,” Poh continued. “We hope to eventually translate these findings into the clinic and improve survival outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients.”

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute is the La Trobe University School of Cancer Medicine.  The school is located in the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre, a comprehensive cancer center in Melbourne, Australia.  The organization is at the forefront of cancer research and treatment.  According to its website, the institute has more than 140 research studies currently underway, and has published more than 100 scientific papers.

On the recent passing of their namesake, Dame Olivia Newton-John, they wrote, “As our Founding Champion, Olivia was a tireless supporter of people living with cancer, and a source of great inspiration to all of us at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute. Her energy, kindness and commitment to improving the lives of people living with cancer provided an extraordinary and meaningful source of light, encouragement and hope to many.”


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