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Addenbrooke's surgeon awarded £1.2m grant for research into pancreatic cancer

Siong Liau, an honorary consultant HPB surgeon at Addenbrooke's, has been awarded a £1.2m grant by the Medical Research Council (MRC) to look at the role of DNA repair in pancreatic cancer.

Mr Liau trained in Edinburgh and Cambridge before spending two years at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA. He then worked at CRUK's Cambridge Research Institute and in 2011 was awarded a Clinician Scientist Fellowship by the MRC, which will fund five years of surgical and scientific research on pancreatic cancer.

He divides his time between Prof Ashok Venkitaraman's MRC Cancer Cell Unit in the Hutchison/MRC Research Centre here on campus and work as a consultant in pancreatic and hepatobiliary surgery at Addenbrooke's. The hospital has the best rates in the UK for the number of patients surviving pancreatic cancer surgery and was recently named Trust of the Year by Dr Foster Intelligence.

"We're trying to understand the process of DNA repair and predisposition to pancreatic cancer, and using this knowledge to develop novel mechanism-based therapeutics," says Mr Liau.

In the study, using in vivo models with predisposition to pancreatic cancer, the aim is to mimic tumour development in humans, enabling the team to model new treatments and see the effects of those treatments in real time.

"Pancreatic cancer is hard to treat because the tumour is often so close to key organs and blood vessels that it's not possible to operate safely," he says. "But with good perioperative care, top surgical expertise and experience and the careful selection of patients, we're able to improve the prognosis for this disease."

Why did he decide to specialise in pancreatic cancer? "It's a difficult disease to deal with and I like the challenge. If you can make headway in pancreatic cancer, we can use the same strategy in other cancers."

Mr Liau says the Cambridge Pancreatic Cancer Centre based at Addenbrooke's allows clinicians to work within an organisational structure, moving quickly from the lab to clinical care and it also brings together a group of like-minded people interested in improving clinical care for pancreatic cancer patients. He believes the future for cancer treatment lies in a combination of therapies - not necessarily replacing surgery, with the aim to eliminate or reduce the recurrence of the disease.

Mr Liau's MRC fellowship application was strongly supported by the University's Department of Surgery, in particular by Prof Andrew Bradley. "Without their support it would not be possible to be released from clinical duties for research. They also trained me extremely well, so I'm grateful for that!

"Our team is not about having a superstar surgeon: it's a real team effort and that's why we have such low mortality at Addenbrooke's - we think alike and work as a team. It's a privilege to be in my position," says Mr Liau. "We're providing an insight into a disease that's urgently needed in clinical practice. By making headway in the lab, this will allow us to translate that knowledge in the clinical setting."