SOUTHAMPTON-based scientists have identified genes that could lead to identifying pancreatic cancer earlier. 

A team of scientists from the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre and the University of Southampton hope to develop a screening programme with the aim of identifying cases early.

Dr Zaed Hamady and Dr William Tapper compared the genetic data of 1,042 people with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cancer (PDAC) – the most common form of pancreatic cancer – with 10,420 participants without cancer.

PDAC has the lowest survival rate of any cancer, as it is commonly detected when it has spread around the body.

The illness is also linked to new-onset diabetes with symptoms including weight loss and changes to bowel habits.

Using data from the UK biobank, a database of genetic and health information from 500,000 participants nationwide, the researchers looked for small variations in genes previously linked to the disease, combining the genetic data with information on a person’s symptoms, lifestyle and medical history.

Dr Hamady, a consultant at UHS, said: “This study could change the way we diagnose people with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.”

He added: “It shows it is possible to develop a model which can predict who is most likely to develop the disease and, if used as a tool to aid early diagnosis, this could greatly help to catch this cancer at a time when treatment is most effective. This would help save lives.”

The researchers have received £35,000 from the Liver and Pancreatic Research & Development Fund (LAPR&D), part of the independent Planets Cancer Charity, to progress the project and develop a dedicated risk score tool.

Dr Tapper, associate professor in genomic informatics at the University of Southampton, said: “Pancreatic cancer remains a difficult cancer to treat, early detection is crucial in improving patient outcomes. The aim is that this research programme will identify a group of people who will benefit from a screening programme without major financial impact on the public health system.”