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Research solves pancreatic cancer mystery

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A NEW technique to study tissue samples in 3D has revealed that pancreatic cancers can start and grow in two distinct ways, solving a decades-old mystery of how tumours form.

The new method could help researchers to get more information from tissue biopsies and may lead to improved treatments for pancreatic cancers. The technique was developed by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, and their results are published in Nature. The work was supported by the European Research Council and core funding from the MRC (one of the Crick’s founding partners).

The pancreas is a crucial organ that sits behind our stomach and plays a key role in digestion. It relies on a network of ducts linking it to other digestive organs, and the most common pancreatic cancers are found in the ducts. However, until now it has only been possible to see 2D slices of these ductal cancers, which contained an unexplained variety of abnormal shapes.

“To investigate the origins of pancreatic cancer, we spent six years developing a new method to analyse cancer biopsies in three dimensions,” explains Dr Hendrik Messal from the Francis Crick Institute, co-lead author of the research paper. “This technique revealed that cancers develop in the duct walls and either grow inwards or outwards depending on the size of the duct. This explains the mysterious shape differences that we’ve been seeing in 2D slices for decades.”

By analysing developing cancers in 3D, the team defined two distinct types of cancer formation: ‘endophytic’ tumours which grow inwards and ‘exophytic’ tumours which grow outwards. To find out what makes cancer cells grow in a particular way, they analysed detailed 3D images and worked with biophysicists at the Crick who created sophisticated computer models.

“We made a simulation of the ducts, describing individual cell geometry to understand tissue shape,” explains biophysicist Dr Silvanus Alt, co-lead author of the paper. “The model and experimental results both confirmed that cancer grew outwards when the diameter of the duct was less than approximately 20 micrometres, around a fiftieth of a millimetre.”

The work was made possible by an interdisciplinary collaboration between two research groups at the Crick, led by Dr Axel Behrens and Dr Guillaume Salbreux. Axel’s group works on stem cells and pancreatic cancer, while Guillaume focuses on using physics to understand biological processes.

“I think we first started discussing this when we bumped into each other in the bike shed,” says Axel. “It’s amazing what can come out of a chance encounter, we now have a patented technique to see the three-dimensional shapes of cancers and a biophysical understanding of the emergence of tumours. Now that we know pancreatic cancer can develop in these two different ways, we can start looking at whether one is likely to be more aggressive or spread in a different way. Many years from now, this could lead to improved diagnostic or treatment options.”

The team also applied the technique to other organs and found that cancers in the airways of the lungs and ducts in the liver behave in the same way. This shows that the mechanism the teams discovered is not specific to the pancreas and also applies to other cancers.

“Both the data and our models indicate that the two different mechanisms of tumour growth are purely down to the innate physics of the system,” explains Dr Guillaume Salbreux. “Like most cancers, ductal pancreatic cancer starts with a single defective cell that starts dividing. We found that very quickly, when there are only a few cells, the tumour has already started to grow either inwards or outwards depending on duct diameter. Defining this fundamental process will help us to better understand how cancer grows in many places across the body.”

Dr Mariana Delfino-Machin, Programme Manager for Cancer at the MRC, said: “Pancreatic cancer remains a very difficult disease to treat but understanding that it can grow in different ways will inform the development of more accurate treatments in the future.

“These findings came about thanks to researchers working in very different fields coming together to successfully tackle the same problem.”

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Lord Lieutenant visits Mass Vaccination Centre

Thomas Sinclair

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Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Dyfed, Miss Sarah Edwards, has paid tribute to all those involved in the COVID-19 vaccination programme during a visit to the Y Ffwrness Mass Vaccination Centre in Llanelli.

During the visit on Wednesday 9th June she was joined by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant, Lt Col David Mathias, and the High Sheriff of Dyfed, Mr.Jonathan Gravell. They met and spoke to the centre’s vaccinators, NHS staff, security staff and volunteers.

To date, the collective efforts of mass vaccination centres, GP practices and community pharmacies in Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, have resulted in the Hywel Dda University Health Board delivering over 431,850 vaccinations. This means 266,785 of the eligible population have now received a first vaccine, and 165,056 have received both doses.

The Lord-Lieutenant of Dyfed said: “It was wonderful to see first-hand the incredible work being undertaken by the vaccinators, NHS staff and volunteers. They have played a crucial role in the success of the vaccine rollout programme. I would also pay tribute to the public for their overwhelmingly positive response to getting vaccinated.”

Maria Battle, Chair of Hywel Dda University Health Board, added: “On behalf of the health board, I was delighted to welcome Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Dyfed, Miss Sara Edwards, the Vice Lord-Lieutenant, Lt Col David Mathias, and the High Sheriff of Dyfed, Mr Jonathan Gravell. I am deeply proud of everyone involved in the vaccination programme and I’m glad they got to see for themselves the incredibly work being undertaken to help get us through this pandemic.”

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GP practices thanked for Covid-19 vaccine efforts

Thomas Sinclair

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Hywel Dda University Health Board is thanking primary care for the commitment and energy shown as GP practices near the completion of offering second doses to every patient vaccinated at their GP practice.

All 48 GP practices across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire signed up to deliver the programme, committing to delivering the programme to certain JCVI priority groups.

Of all doses given so far within the three counties, almost 213,000 vaccines (51%) have been given by GP practices.  Practices are now well on their way to completing the task of offering a second dose to every patient who has had a first vaccine and have already done 96,500 second vaccine doses at the time of publication.

Dr Sion James, Deputy Medical Director for Primary Care said “Having the experience of running the vaccination programme in my own practice I know how both challenging and rewarding it has been to be part of this programme.  It is testament to our Practices commitment to delivering the best patient care possible that they have continued to work with us throughout the programme.

Jill Paterson, Director of Primary Care, Community Services and Long Term Care said “I am proud of the commitment shown by all of our practices for the excellent work that they have done in helping the Health Board to deliver this programme.  Throughout the pandemic their commitment to maintaining the delivery of general medical services to their patients hasn’t wavered despite staff being under pressure and feeling tired.  The delivery of the vaccination programme has been a whole system effort to protect our patients.”

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Asbestos Related Diseases in Wales – a call out to readers for their story

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The Llanelli Herald are asking readers to contact us at the email address below if they, or their family members have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease.

Have you or a family member been diagnosed with an industrial related disease such as: asbestosis; pleural plaques or mesothelioma which was contracted through the course of you or your family’s employment in Llanelli? If so, then please contact us confidentially to discuss your experience.

The Herald Wales are in the process of launching a public awareness campaign on asbestos and the potential consequences it can pose to the health of those who have dealt with it and the damage to the environment which such material can have.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre which was widely used in construction and other industries until the late 1990s in the UK. People were and still can be unwittingly exposed to asbestos in their homes, employment and communities. 

If products containing asbestos are disturbed, fibers from it can then break off and be released into the environment. When asbestos fibres are breathed in, they can enter the lungs which over time, can cause inflammation, which can affect breathing and further lead to various, serious terminal health problems.

Asbestos has been classified as a known human carcinogen

Please email editor@herald.email with your story.

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