A University of Newcastle researcher has played an integral part in a large-scale study that has discovered pancreatic cancer is not just one disease, but many.

The research, published today in the esteemed scientific journal Nature, represents the first report from Australia’s contribution to the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), which brings together the world’s leading scientists to identify the genetic drivers behind 50 different cancer types.

Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers and is one of the few for which survival has not improved substantially over the past 40 years. It is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death.

Professor Sean Grimmond, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at the University of Queensland, and Professor Andrew Biankin, from The Kinghorn Cancer Centre at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research/St Vincent’s Hospital, led an international team of more than 100 researchers that sequenced the genomes of 100 pancreatic tumours and compared them to normal tissue to determine the genetic changes that lead to pancreatic cancer.

The University of Newcastle’s Dr Chris Scarlett, who is also affiliated with the Garvan Institute, was part of this international team.

Professor Grimmond said the study found over 2,000 mutated genes in total, ranging from the KRAS gene, which was mutated in about 90 per cent of samples, to hundreds of gene mutations that were only present in one or two per cent of tumours.

“So while tumours may look very similar under the microscope, genetic analysis reveals as many variations in each tumour as there are patients,” Professor Grimmond said.

“This demonstrates that so-called ‘pancreatic cancer’ is not one disease, but many, and suggests that people who seemingly have the same cancer might need to be treated quite differently.”

Based at the University’s Central Coast campus in the School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Dr Scarlett said it was rewarding to be involved in a landmark cancer discovery.

“This is the largest collaborative pancreatic cancer study ever undertaken and this finding will have a massive impact on the way pancreatic cancer patients are treated. Being part of this research, among a group of leading Australian scientists, has been extremely satisfying.”

The research group said individual genetic diagnoses and treatments was the future of healthcare.

Read the Nature article Pancreatic cancer genomes reveal aberrations in axon guidance pathway genes.

Read about Dr Chris Scarlett’s recent Ramaciotti Foundations grant in the Central Coast Express Advocate.

Garvan Institute Unmasking the deadly secrets of pancreatic cancer

What the media is saying about this discovery:

Listen to the audio on ABC’s AM program.

Sydney Morning Herald Australian breakthrough on lethal pancreatic cancer: ‘Treat each patient differently’: A leading cancer researcher has called for greater emphasis on personalised treatment after a landmark Australian study found the underlying genetic cause of pancreatic cancer differed among patients.

Skynews.com.au Study of pancreatic cancer genome: Australian scientists have cracked a genetic mystery surrounding one of the deadliest cancers, potentially paving the way for new treatments.

Science Alert Hope for pancreatic cancer patients: A study suggests that pancreatic cancer, the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the world, is not just one disease, but many.

The Australian Genetic find lifts cancer hopes: Australian researchers have helped to identify the genetic mutations responsible for pancreatic cancers in a breakthrough that could revolutionise treatment.

ABC Pancreatic cancer gene findings offer new hope: Australian scientists have identified a set of mutated genes responsible for pancreatic cancer, a finding that could lead to early detection and better treatment of the disease.

Herald Sun Australian researchers crack genetic code of deadly pancreatic cancer:  The world-first research, headed by Australian scientists, has mapped out the genetic changes that lead to pancreatic cancer, which kills about 2500 people each year in Australia and has one of the highest mortality rates of all cancers.

Read more about research at the University of Newcastle.