Professor Matthias Ernst’s team receives Cancer Council Victoria funding for research into pancreatic cancer

Congratulations to Professor Matthias Ernst, Head of the Tumour Environment and Immunology Program at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute and Dr Moritz Eissmann, Head of the Cytokine and Cancer Signalling Group at ONJCRI, who are the recipients of a Cancer Council Victoria 2024 Grants-in-Aid. The Cancer Council Victoria’s Grants-in-Aid program funds high-quality research projects into the treatment, causes, detection and prevention of all cancers.

Professor Ernst and Dr Eissmann, in collaboration with A/Prof Marina Pajic from the Garvan Institute, and Prof Mehrdad Nikfarjam from University of Melbourne received funding for their project ‘Identification of therapeutic vulnerabilities that promote metastatic spread of pancreatic cancer’. The Grants-in-Aid program supports research for 1 to 3 years, with applicants undergoing a rigorous peer-review process.

Professor Ernst said, “the grant supports our work which seeks to determine mechanisms of how pancreatic cancer adapts over time to develop resistance and avoid detection by our immune system. By understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms, which are likely to involve dialogue between cancer cells and the normal cells surrounding them, we will be able to identify new drug targets. Such drugs will open possibilities to make pancreatic cancer cells more vulnerable to immunotherapy.”

Pancreatic cancer ranks as the sixth most prevalent cancer, yet its survival rate remains disheartening, with fewer than 1 in 10 patients surviving 5 years post-diagnosis. Despite significant strides in treating other forms of cancer, progress in controlling pancreatic cancer has been notably limited. This is particularly true for immunotherapy, where most pancreatic cancer cases either do not respond to immunotherapy or rapidly develop resistance, unlike in other cancers such as melanoma.

Building on our observations that cancer cells are made up of different clones, it is important to identify which of these clones are responsible for a cancer to become resistant to treatment so that these clones can be eliminated early.

“Our CCV grant will explore how pancreatic cancers evade immune cell attack at a molecular level. These mechanisms may also be used by other cancer cells, making our findings relevant beyond pancreatic cancer.” Dr Eissmann said.