SCIENTISTS in Glasgow have made a breakthrough which could halt the spread of pancreatic cancer cells.

Experts at the Cancer Research UK's Beatson Institute in Glasgow have shown how switching off a key protein in pancreatic cells slows the spread of the disease to other tissues.

This has paved the way for new drugs that could potentially slow the spread of cancer and reduce the chances or re-growth.

Medics say pancreatic cancer, known as the "silent killer" is difficult to treat because patients don't usually have symptoms until the disease begins to spread.

As a result survival remains low, with only around 4% of patients living more than five years after diagnosis.

Study leader, Dr Laura Machesky, said: "We know that the protein fascin is overactive in many cancers, but this is the first time we've been able to show that tumours lacking this protein are less able to develop.

"What's more, we found pancreatic cancer patients with elevated fascin levels were more prone to the cancer coming back and tended to succumb to the disease more quickly.

"It's early days, but we think that developing drugs to block fascin could potentially help halt cancer spread in patients with pancreatic cancer."

The researchers studied human cancer samples and mice predisposed to get pancreatic cancer.

They found that when fascin was absent, pancreatic cancer was less able to spread around the body. In mice, this delayed the onset of the disease and resulted in smaller tumours.

In August last yearwe reported how mum-of-two Margaret Wood, 50, died six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The disease was also highlighted in Coronation Street, when character Hayley Cropper was diagnosed with the cancer and later died.