Genes contain the blueprints for all cells and organs of the human body. Changes (for example as in mutations) in these genes can contribute to the development of a multitude of diseases. The decoding of these genes and their changes has lead to an improvement of early recognition and treatment of certain diseases.

Pancreatic Cancer Research

The European Pancreas Center, which works in close collaboration with the Swiss Pancreas Center, has been intensively engaged in research into molecular and genetic changes involved in various forms of cancer. Pancreatic cancer has been a major focus of this research. A number of important discoveries relating to the causes of this form of cancer have been made, and new methods of treatments were developed, some of which have already been successfully tested on animals. Some of the findings made in the course of this research are explained below.

More effective therapy thanks to research

The survival rate of pancreatic cancer is very low and the disease has been on a rise in recent years. The continually improved methods of diagnosis have succeeded in detecting the disease earlier and in more patients. Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive disease and comes in 5th place on mortality statistics for malignant tumors.

Chances of a cure

Total surgical removal of the tumor is the only form of treatment with the chance of a cure. Chemotherapy alone or together with surgery is the most common form of treatment and improves length of life and the chances of survival. In Europe, radiation therapy is only administered in special situations. These therapies can reduce the size of tumors, and in some cases improve life quality and alleviate pain. The reasons for the aggressive growth of pancreatic tumors have yet to be explained.

Already in the 80s molecular biological studies of human pancreatic cancer cells have shown the important role of growth factors in the development of pancreatic cancer. These factors accelerate the growth of a range of cells but in particular cancer cells. One can find a markedly increased number of such factors in pancreatic cancer, which can accelerate the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. Concurrently, it has been observed that factors which normally inhibit cell growth, or lead to cell death, are found in reduced numbers or are impaired in their function by genetic changes. This means that these factors can no longer inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.

Moreover, cancer cells produce factors, which enhance their own ability to invade the surrounding healthy, tissue or other organs and to form secondary tumors (metastases).

Our own research has been focused on the improvement of therapy for the patient on the basis of the development of an immune therapy for pancreatic cancer.

Molecular Biological Research

In recent years, molecular biological research has contributed to a marked increase in our understanding of what causes pancreatic cancer.
The increased presence of growth factors and a host of other molecular changes give pancreatic cancer cells a considerable growth advantage, which enhances the progress of the disease and which could be responsible for the failure of the tumor to respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. In the meantime a battery of studies has been able to show that an increasingly aggressive behavior of pancreatic cancer and a shorter post-operative life expectancy is linked to molecular change in the cancer cells. By gaining knowledge of these cell processes, we then try to develop a remedy.

Improvements in Therapy thanks to Research

Further research may make it possible for us to offer our patients improved therapies for their cancer. In recent years new methods of treatment based on molecular research have opened up paths for genetic therapy. These new treatment methods are available to our cancer patients.

A further focus area is the research into genetic defects in patients with a family history of pancreatic cancer as well as into the inherited form of chronic pancreatitis.