Rainforests provide help to unlock the mystery of a deadly cancer

Former school teacher Ian Gray was at peak fitness when he developed a pain in his side.

"In the space of a week I had some scans, and the GP had me diagnosed with pancreatic cancer," he said.

A diagnosis of one of the deadliest forms of cancer was furthest from his mind.

The father and grandfather was told his cancer could have been lying dormant for years.

"This creeps up on you it's a symptomless disease," said Mr Gray.

2600 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, of those 2400 don't survive.

"5% of pancreatic cancer patients are alive 5 years later and the chances of living over 12 months are quite slim," said Ian Gray.

2600 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, 2400 don't survive
2600 Australians are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, 2400 don't survive

Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest rates of survival but scientists are now looking to nature in the hope of a breakthrough.

Griffith University researchers are drawing from a nature bank; a treasure chest of animal and plant diversity with samples from tropical Queensland rainforests.

"The major advantage here is actually the natural products," said Dr Stephen Wood from Griffith University.

Dr Stephen Wood in the labratory
Dr Stephen Wood in the labratory

Funded by the cancer council Dr Wood's team is unlocking how GFX cancer cells trick the body into enabling its spread by turning off a key gene.

"How we can switch the gene back on as perhaps this will prevent the spread of the cancer or even kill the cancer in the secondary sites," said Dr Wood.

"This is very important and very encouraging local research which is looking at supresing pancreatic cancer and hopefully, where possible, stopping its spread," said Katie Clift, from Cancer Council Queensland.

"95% of people are not here in five years but that's just based on old data. I might change the data," said Ian Gray.

Optimism that mother nature could provide new hope.

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