For more information on our recent data notice, please click here


Pancreatic Cancer Research

Our physician-scientists are taking many approaches to learning more about diagnosing and improving survival rates for pancreatic cancer.

Research Goals

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 the marker that serves as a signature in patients with early pancreatic cancer. Thus 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 problem with pancreatic cancer is its ability to metastasize (spread) very fast, invading other healthy organs. One of our recent discoveries is an enzyme in pancreatic cancer cells that seems to turn on metastatic disease. Currently in studies on experimental models, a method to detect this enzyme may soon be available for human clinical trials.

A Drug to Stop Pancreatic Cancer in its Tracks

Scientists know that pancreatic cancer involves angiogenesis, the development of new blood vessels. They’ve also learned that the cancer incorporates certain molecular pathways in the body that are important to the tumor’s growth and its invasive ability. With this information, UC San Diego researchers have uncovered a class of drugs that may prevent the cancer from accessing the blood supply.

They are taking a two-prong approach:

  1. Attacking the cancer cells directly, causing them to die prematurely
  2. Attacking the blood vessels within the pancreatic cancer itself.

Currently in pre-clinical studies with experimental models, the therapy may be available for human clinical trials within the next couple of 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, thus sparing normal tissue surrounding the cancer. This will allow for the delivery of very strong anti-cancer drugs. Currently in pre-clinical trials, this therapy may be available for human clinical trials in two or three years.

Tremendous Hope on the Horizon

In recent years, remarkable progress has been made in the battle against all types of cancer.  While there is still no known cure for pancreatic cancer, researchers believe they are getting closer to techniques for earlier diagnosis, new therapies to stop the cancer’s spread, and possible curative treatments. 

At UC San Diego, scientific studies are particularly exciting. For example, our researchers have developed mouse models of human pancreatic cancer that allow them to study all stages of the disease, from pre-invasive to metastatic. In addition, our physician-scientists are preparing clinical trials for the investigation of new therapies.

With an ever increasing understanding of the genetics and molecular biology of pancreatic cancer, UC San Diego’s team of brilliant scientists believe we may be only a few years away from hopeful news. 

Clinical Trials and Research Studies

Increasing Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rates

The purpose of the Precision Promise clinical trial is to increase pancreatic cancer survival rates. Because no two patients' 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, one of 12 initial sites selected to participate in this trial. 

Improving Characterization of Pancreatic Cancer Risk from Pancreatic Cysts

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. For more information on this study, contact Shirley Tejidor at

Our Research Partners

Cancer Centers Council: C3-Pancreatic Cancer Research Group

To leverage the collaborative opportunities offered by the close proximity of 3 NCI-designated cancer centers in San Diego for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and ultimate cure of 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

Appointments & Referrals


La Jolla

Meet Our Specialists

Clinical Trials

Patient Education

Learn more about pancreatic cancer in our Health Library: