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

Ten Years of Athena Swan in the Medical Sciences Division

2022 marks ten years since the first Athena Swan Bronze applications from the Medical Sciences Division. Ten years later, and all 16 departments in the Division have achieved a Silver Award. We look at NDORMS’ Athena Swan journey.

NDORMS researchers awarded Associate Professor title

The University of Oxford has awarded the title of Associate Professor to Adam Cribbs and Luke Jostins.

Oxford's largest ever study into varicose veins shows need for surgery is linked to genetics

A new international study by Oxford researchers published in Nature Communications, establishes for the first time a critical genetic risk score to predict the likelihood of patients suffering with varicose veins to require surgery, as well as pointing the way towards potential new therapies.

Reflecting on the role of Clinical Director of Trauma and Orthopaedics

In 2021 Professor Andrew Price was appointed Clinical Director of Trauma and Orthopaedics at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. After 9 months in post, we find out what the challenges are and what he’s been able to bring to the role.

Building a humanoid bioreactor

A humanoid robot is being used at NDORMS in an attempt to grow tendon tissue for repairing shoulder injuries.

Professor Fiona Powrie recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours

Professor Fiona Powrie was honoured in the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours List, published as Her Majesty celebrates her Platinum Jubilee.