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  • Protein Key to Growth of Pancreatic Cancer

Protein Key to Growth of Pancreatic Cancer

Nov 09 2010 Read 2227 Times

A protein known to regulate cell proliferation and survival has been linked for the first time to pancreatic cancer, the UK’s fifth most common cause of cancer death The protein could provide a target to develop new treatments for the disease or enable earlier diagnosis, said researchers from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all cancers due to its lack of symptoms in the early stages, late diagnosis and its resistance to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

The research – funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund – found that nearly three quarters of pancreatic cancer tumours had high levels of a protein known as P110γ. In laboratory experiments, when production of this protein was blocked, the cancer cells stopped growing.

“It is a striking number of patients who present with high levels of P110γ,” said Professor of Molecular Pharmacology, Marco Falasca, who led the research. “The fact that P110γ is needed for pancreatic cancer cells to grow shows that it is likely to have a critical role in the progression of the disease, which makes it a potential target for developing new treatments.”

The team are also looking at whether P110γ is linked to pancreatic cancer’s resistance to chemotherapy and whether genetic regulation can explain why P110γ is found at high levels in pancreatic cancer.

Maggie Blanks, CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) said: “These initial results are very positive, but there is clearly a lot of further research required. We’re pleased to be funding further work by Professor Falasca and his team to help them build on these findings.”

Each year around 7,700 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is an extremely difficult cancer to diagnose and treat and is unusually aggressive. Symptoms are vague (including abdominal pain, weight loss and jaundice) and tend to present only when the disease is at an advanced stage. Just 3% of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive beyond five years, a figure that has not improved in forty years.

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (www.pcrf.org.uk) was founded in early 2004 by Maggie Blanks, following the death of her husband Alan from the disease, just 3 months after they married. “Despite being the 5th biggest cause of cancer death in the UK and having the lowest survival rate of all common cancers, it receives less than 2 per cent of overall research funding. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and I was outraged,” Maggie explained. “We’ve seen astonishing progress in survival rates when funding is pumped into research for other cancers, such as breast cancer and childhood leukaemia.
Our aim is to help build a big enough research community that can really start to make a difference to the prognosis for pancreatic cancer too,” she said. Six years in, the charity currently funds £1.6 million of research projects entirely from donations and looks set to top £2 million by the end of the year. Eleven research projects are underway around the UK, selected by the Charity’s Scientific Advisory Panel. “The funding call attracts an increasing number of high quality proposals every year, which means that the profile of this disease is growing. But there’s still much to do,” she added.

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