Press Releases

Focused Ultrasound Foundation and Pancreatic Cancer UK Partner to Fund Innovative Study


CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA, and LONDON, UK – (April 30, 2020) The Focused Ultrasound Foundation and Pancreatic Cancer UK have partnered to advance the development of focused ultrasound therapy as a potential treatment for pancreatic cancer.

PCUK and FUSF partnershipPancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of the 20 most common cancers. In the UK, less than seven percent of people with pancreatic cancer will survive beyond five years, and currently less than 1.3 percent of cancer research funding is directed toward pancreatic cancer.

Since its establishment in 2003, Pancreatic Cancer UK has been dedicated to supporting all those affected by the disease, in part by funding innovative research to find the breakthroughs that will change how we understand, diagnose, and treat pancreatic cancer.

Focused ultrasound is an early-stage, noninvasive therapeutic technology that has been used, employing several different approaches, to address pancreatic cancer. Clinical studies in Europe and Asia suggest that focused ultrasound treatment of pancreatic tumors relieves pancreatic cancer—related pain and can ablate malignant tissue. Two clinical focused ultrasound devices have also earned regulatory approval in parts of Europe and Asia to treat pancreatic tumors.

Additional evidence suggests that focused ultrasound – with or without immunotherapeutics – can elicit an immune response to help the body fight the disease. But more research is needed.

The first project to be funded under this new partnership – and part of the Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Research Innovation Fund – aims to build upon the current body of knowledge.

A multidisciplinary team at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London has designed and built a clinical ultrasound-guided focused ultrasound system and was the first to use this technique on cancer patients in clinical trials. Now, they plan to translate this expertise to pancreatic cancer in a preclinical model. They will study how focused ultrasound may improve the local delivery of specially engineered viruses that target pancreatic cancer cells.

Gail ter HaarProfessor Gail ter Haar, head of the Therapy Ultrasound team in the ICR’s Division of Radiotherapy and Imaging, will lead the study. Collaborating on the project is Dr. Petros Mouratidis, a postdoctoral researcher who, under the guidance of Prof. ter Haar, has been investigating the biological and immunological effects of therapeutic ultrasound in preclinical colorectal and pancreatic cancer models for the past five years.

“We feel very honored that we are the first group to be co-funded by Pancreatic Cancer UK and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation,” said Prof. ter Haar. “Combining therapeutic ultrasound with new and current therapies for pancreatic cancer has exciting potential that has been recognized by the two organizations that have most expertise in these areas. While a number of therapies exist for pancreatic cancer, it is clear that they are not as effective as in other cancer types because they cannot penetrate the tumor in the pancreas. We believe that ultrasound exposure of the pancreas will open up the tumor structure and allow better access for new treatment strategies, and also existing therapies, to the tumor cells. If this works as predicted, ultrasound will provide a new, minimally invasive technique for the enhancement of treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

The study will combine the most effective ultrasound approaches and most efficient viruses to see if this inhibits tumor growth and improves survival.

“Pancreatic cancer’s natural defenses make it extremely hard to treat and are a key factor in why survival has barely changed in decades,” said Dr. Chris MacDonald, Head of Research at Pancreatic Cancer UK. “The protective shell of dense, fibrous tissue the tumor forms around itself makes it resistant to chemotherapy. This poses a huge challenge for doctors, so we’re delighted to be funding this innovative new approach to overcoming the problem.

“By targeting the ultrasound directly at the outer shell of the tumor, the team at the ICR aims to breach it and enable the virus to cause a chain reaction that will destroy the cancer cells. The potential of this combination is exciting, but successful testing of the ultrasound technique alone could well offer hope for future patients. If researchers are able to show that the heat from the ultrasound can damage the structure of the tumor this knowledge could help to greatly enhance other therapies for pancreatic cancer, new and old alike.”

“The research that exists today is early, but it suggests that focused ultrasound may play a significant role in addressing this deadly disease,” says Focused Ultrasound Foundation chairman Neal F. Kassell, MD. “The Foundation is dedicated to advancing the field and optimizing focused ultrasound therapy for these patients. Partnering with a renowned organization like Pancreatic Cancer UK to support this innovative study at ICR is an important step in that direction.”

The Focused Ultrasound Foundation recently launched a clinical pancreatic cancer registry to help guide the future of research for the disease.

The ICR is also one of the Foundation’s eight Centers of Excellence – luminary sites that showcase focused ultrasound and serve as hubs for collaboration around the world.

About Pancreatic Cancer UK
Pancreatic Cancer UK is taking on pancreatic cancer through research, support and campaigning to transform the future for people affected.

  • We provide expert, personalized support and information via our Support Line (Freephone 0808 801 0707) and through a range of publications.
  • We fund innovative research to find the breakthroughs that will change how we understand, diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.
  • We campaign for change; for better care, treatment and research, and for pancreatic cancer to have the recognition it needs.

About the Focused Ultrasound Foundation
The Focused Ultrasound Foundation was created to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide by accelerating the development of this noninvasive technology. The Foundation works to clear the path to global adoption by coordinating and funding research, fostering collaboration, and building awareness among patients and professionals. Since its establishment in 2006, the Foundation has become the largest nongovernmental source of funding for focused ultrasound research.