Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Researchers in Oxford have found that an individual’s immune system – and in particular the presence of T-cells amongst tumour cells – may play an important role in survival after surgery to remove pancreatic cancer.

None © Shutterstock

The study by the University of Oxford’s Department of Oncology and Kennedy Institute, supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), suggests that pancreatic cancer can be categorised in terms of a person’s own immune system. The research also involved colleagues from the universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds and Maastricht.

The paper, Immuno‐phenotypes of Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma: Meta‐analysis of transcriptional subtypes, is published in the International Journal of Cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer and has limited treatment options. In the early stages of the disease, the tumour often causes few symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose. After diagnosis, only 5% of patients survive for five years. Even after an operation in the earliest stages of the disease, only 20% of patients are alive after five years.

The study conducted a meta‐analysis of 353 pancreatic cancer patients from four different studies to derive a classification based on immunological parameters.

It found that if pancreatic cancer patients had higher levels of T-cells – a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in a body’s immune response – in their cancer, they would live longer after an operation.

In contrast, those whose tumour had higher levels of neutrophil cells – a component of the innate immune system – fared worst after surgery.

People who had neither neutrophils nor T cells in their cancer would on average live for a couple of years after an operation before dying from their cancer.

“This is a significant step forward in our understanding of this recalcitrant disease. Prognosis is generally very poor, and we need to find new ways to treat it,” said Dr Shivan Sivakumar, Clinical Lecturer in Oncology at the University of Oxford, who led the study.

“Although our approach will need to be validated in larger studies, it does suggest that we are now able to stratify pancreatic cancer based on how a person’s own immune system reacts to the cancer.

“Existing immune treatments that work well against skin cancer and lung cancer do not work in pancreatic cancer. However, we can now start studying other types of immune therapy, based on the immune cell ‘signatures’ present in a patient’s pancreatic cancer.”

Dr Sivakumar continued: “In Oxford, we are now profiling the immune system in the tumour in great depth, so we can identify every cell present. This would help us decide how and in whom immune-therapy might work best. This will tell us how future clinical trials should be designed.”

Similar stories

New guidelines to improve reporting standards of studies that investigate causal mechanisms

Researchers at NDORMS have developed a new set of guidelines for reporting mediation analyses in health research.

New Associate Professors announced at NDORMS

The Medical Sciences Division has awarded the title of Associate Professor to five senior researchers at NDORMS.

COVID-19 vaccines shown to reduce infection by 90% in nursing homes

A new collaborative study between the Catalan Institute of Health, the Public Health Secreatariat of Catalonia, and the Centre for Statistics in Medicine, NDORMS, at the University of Oxford have confirmed that COVID-19 vaccines greatly reduce infections, hospitalisations and mortality for up to 6 months.

The Kennedy Institute completes its roof extension

Building work at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology has finished, providing a new third floor that houses additional meeting and collaboration space for data science and offices for the management of clinical trials.

Unlocking the secrets of the microbiome

Jethro Johnson, Deputy Director of the Oxford Centre for Microbiome Research explains how the centre is building a research community to understand the microbiome and harness its power to promote health and prevent disease.

Into the future: watching biology unfold

As part of the University of Oxford’s mission to provide its researchers with the newest state-of-the-art optical imaging equipment and as part of a strategic partnership with the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (KIR), the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine (IDRM), and Carl Zeiss AG (ZEISS), ZEISS has installed a ZEISS Lattice Lightsheet 7 microscope at the KIR.