Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDAC), is a very common and particularly aggressive form of pancreatic cancer.  It is hard to diagnose early and because patients often only have a limited response to current treatments.

PDAC is notable because the tumours associated with the cancer often have a particularly substantial stroma. Stroma is a thick outer layer of tissue that surrounds the cancerous cells and it is much stiffer than the tumour itself. This makes it hard for therapeutic drugs to get access to the tumour and ultimately promoting the growth of the cancer.  Stroma is a very stiff tissue that is full of a structural protein called collagen, of which there are many different types, all upholding the mechanical properties of the stromal material.

In my project we are studying this collagen in tissue samples to better understand how it contributes to the stiffness of the thick stroma, which will hopefully lead to a further understanding of how best to treat PDAC.

We will stain some samples of PDAC tissue with a dye called picrosirius red before taking pictures of the cells and their collagen using a microscope called a “polarised light microscope”.  My lab group and I are currently testing the stiffness of the samples using a technique called Atomic Force Microscopy.

Using computer coding and image processing we are going to overlap and integrate the images of the collagen in our tissue samples and the data we have on how stiff the samples are in different regions of the tissue samples to see if there is any connection between the amount of collagen in a region of tissue and the stiffness of that region. We will also look at the nuances of these changes, such as how they differ around certain histological features within the tumour.

In summary, the aim of this project is to test the hypothesis that collagen fibre organisation in PDAC is associated with regional increases in stiffness.  Greater understanding may ultimately lead to improved treatments.

Start year
End year
Principal investigator
Dr Stephen Thorpe
Chris Glynn
Grant funding
Inaugural Breakthrough Summer Scholarship
Linked to Breakthrough Cancer Research priorities
1, 4, 6

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