Pancreatic Cancer Research

In recent years, researchers have made remarkable progress in the battle against all types of cancer. 

While there's still no cure for pancreatic cancer, we're getting closer to having techniques to detect the disease earlier, therapies to stop its spread, and possible curative treatments. 

At UC San Diego Health, scientific studies are particularly exciting. Our researchers have, for example, developed mouse models of human pancreatic cancer. These allow researchers to study all stages of the disease, from pre-invasive to metastatic. With an ever-increasing understanding of the genetics and molecular biology of pancreatic cancer, we may be only a few years away from very hopeful news. 

Research Goals

Explore some of our current research goals related to advancing pancreatic cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosis at the Earliest Stages

The goal is to develop a simple blood test to help detect pancreatic cancer at an early stage. Researchers are using highly sophisticated protein-detection systems to identify a marker that serves as a signature of early pancreatic cancer. So far, they’ve found candidate markers that need to be evaluated over the next couple of years.

Prevent the Rapid Spread of Pancreatic Cancer

A major challenge with treating pancreatic cancer successfully is the disease's ability to metastasize (spread) very fast. We've recently discovered an enzyme in pancreatic cancer cells that seems to turn on metastatic disease. A method to detect this enzyme may soon be tested in a clinical trial.

A Drug to Stop Pancreatic Cancer 

Pancreatic cancer is fueled by angiogenesis, the development of new blood vessels. Researchers have discovered that certain molecular pathways are important to a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. With this information, UC San Diego Health researchers have uncovered a class of drugs that may prevent cancer from accessing the blood supply by attacking:

  • The cancer cells directly, causing them to die prematurely
  • The blood vessels within pancreatic cancer.

A new therapy may be ready for clinical trials within two to three years.

Smart Bombs to Seek Out and Destroy

Our researchers have designed nanoparticles that act as “smart bombs” to deliver a payload of drugs selectively to tumor blood vessels, sparing normal tissue surrounding cancer. This allows for the delivery of very strong anti-cancer drugs. A new therapy may be ready for clinical trials in two or three years.

Clinical Trials & Research Studies

Explore these research studies, which involve people, and are testing new ways to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.

Improving Survival Rates

The purpose of the Precision Promise clinical trial is to increase pancreatic cancer survival rates. Because no two tumors are exactly the same, this study will use molecular profiling to help determine the best sub-study treatment option for each individual patient. Andrew Lowy, MD, is the principal investigator for UC San Diego Health, one of 12 initial sites selected to participate in this trial.

Early Diagnosis and Cancer Prevention

The goal of this study is earlier diagnosis and prevention of pancreatic cancer. This study will collect patient pathology reports and imaging to learn more about early diagnosis and the natural history of pancreatic cysts. A total of 300 volunteers will take part in this multi-center study, including 100 participants enrolled at UC San Diego Health. For more information on this study, contact Shirley Tejidor at

Search Clinical Trials at UC San Diego Health

Our Research Partners

We are part of the Cancer Centers Council: C3-Pancreatic Cancer Research Group. This partnership aims to leverage the special collaborative opportunities among the three NCI-designated cancer centers in San Diego to advance the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and ultimate cure of pancreatic cancer. We will achieve this by:

  • Facilitating collaborative cancer research
  • Leveraging resources, including shared resources, and expertise
  • Organizing joint scientific initiatives
  • Facilitating interactions with other research entities in the public and private sector