Spotlight: Professor Eithne Costello - pancreatic cancer research

Posted on: 19 November 2020 by Louise Colley in November 2020 posts

Professor Eithne Costello

This edition of Spotlight focuses on Professor Eithne Costello from the Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine. Eithne joined the University of Liverpool in 1999, where she established her own research group focused on pancreatic cancer, with a particular emphasis on early diagnosis.


Pancreatic cancer survival remains very low, with only 7-10 out of every hundred patients surviving the disease for more than five years. Around 9,100 people die from pancreatic cancer each year in the UK.

In eight out of ten patients, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed when it has already spread which limits treatment options.

At the time of their cancer diagnosis, almost half of pancreatic cancer patients have diabetes, the majority of which is of new-onset. Using new-onset diabetes as an early warning sign should allow early detection of a significant proportion of pancreatic cancer cases. Early detection will mean better outcomes for patients, allowing them to undergo treatment earlier and potentially survive longer and that is what we are working towards.  

Early Detection Initiative

Professor Costello, along with a comprehensive team is undertaking new research that will collect blood samples from people with newly diagnosed diabetes, and look for differences between those who are subsequently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and those who are not.

This Cancer Research UK-Funded study called UK-Early Detection Initiative (UK-EDI) will explore the link between diabetes and pancreatic cancer. The study will recruit 2,500 people, aged 50 years or older, who have received a new diagnosis of diabetes within the last 6 months. It is estimated that 1% of those is at risk of a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer within three years.

The study aims to make it feasible in the future to identify people with new-onset diabetes who should be screened for pancreatic cancer. This will allow earlier diagnosis and consequently earlier intervention.

Professor Costello commented: “This is really crucial new research - pancreatic cancer is such a challenging disease with low survival rates. In most cases, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed late and when the disease has already spread. We will look for molecules in the blood samples – called biomarkers – that could form the basis for a test to identify people who could benefit from further cancer screening. If diagnosed at an earlier stage, pancreatic cancer can be operable, so this is what we are trying to achieve."