Funded by the Constellation Gold Network Distributors
Patients with pancreatic cancer are usually diagnosed with advanced disease and suffer from a very poor prognosis with limited treatment options. This is due to the lack of early detection tests and the largely asymptomatic onset of the disease. In the past decade, drugs that pit the body’s immune response against cancerous cells—also known as immunotherapeutics—have been used to treat a variety of cancers but seem to only benefit a limited number of patients. In particular, immunotherapeutics seem generally ineffective against pancreatic cancer, although it is unknown if there is a subset of pancreatic cancer patients who may benefit from this therapeutic approach. To understand why, we will use a new platform developed in our laboratory to study how different populations of cancerous and immune cells within the tumor interact with each other as well as with the other cells in the tumor’s surroundings (i.e. tumor microenvironment). Additionally, the platform will track how these interactions change when the tumor is exposed to disturbances such as immunotherapeutics. Our study will allow us to understand how individual cell populations contribute to the pancreatic tumor’s response—or lack thereof—to immunotherapeutics as well as its ability to evade the immune response. Ultimately, our findings can be used to develop tests that can predict whether a patient with pancreatic cancer will benefit from a certain immunotherapeutic approach.