Advancing world-leading pancreatic cancer research

by Dr. Belinda Lee

Honorary, Medical Biology (W.E.H.I.)

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in Australia and predicted to become the second leading cause of cancer deaths globally by 2030. Dr Belinda Lee, from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is an oncologist and researcher working to combat this alarming trend in pancreatic cancer. 

In 2016, Dr Lee established PURPLE, a first-of-its-kind pancreatic cancer translational database to help improve pancreatic cancer detection methods and develop more effective therapies for the aggressive disease. 

“Our aim is to increase data sharing and collaboration across cancer centres and research laboratories so that we can translate research from the laboratory into the clinic,” Dr Lee said.

The PURPLE registry currently supports crucial studies such as the DYNAMIC-Pancreas clinical trial. The DYNAMIC-Pancreas trial is investigating how cutting-edge blood biomarker technology that detects tiny amounts of residual circulating tumour DNA from a simple blood test can be used to determine whether a patient requires chemotherapy treatment after early stage pancreatic cancer surgery. The study is funded by a generous donation from The Marcus Foundation and sponsored by the Australian GI Trials Group (AGITG) and is recruiting at 20 cancer centres across Australia.

The PURPLE platform is also supporting a pancreatic cancer organoid program that aims to predict and identify the best personalised treatment combinations to improve outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients. The program is a collaborative effort between the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, University of Melbourne, and 11 Victorian cancer centres. New therapeutic drugs developed at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute will be tested through high-throughput drug screen to identify which drugs are most effective in the fight against pancreatic cancer. 

“By coordinating and linking translational research projects through the PURPLE initiative, we hope to gain crucial information for improving pancreatic cancer therapies and for combating factors that cause resistance to treatment,” Dr Lee said. 

website information on DYNAMIC-Pancreas clinical trial