Pancreatic Cancer ‘Switch’ Identified

Thursday, 14 Feb 2013 10:08 AM

By Nick Tate

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Pennsylvania scientists have identified a genetic “master switch” for pancreatic cancer that could help doctors design tailored treatments for the disease, which is often a fast-moving killer.

The finding, reported by a team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, indicates a “master regulator protein” may be responsible for the development of cancer cell growth in the pancreas that is spurred by inflammation.

By studying how the protein acts in laboratory mice, the Penn team was able to identify a key gene that governs the process — a finding that could offer clues to how to diagnose the condition earlier in human pancreatic cancer patients to help speed effective treatments.

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"We hope that studies like this one that identify key molecules and pathways that govern the cancerous fate of cells can be used as diagnostic predictors of treatment outcome and severity for cancer," said Anil Rustgi, M.D., a gastroenterology specialist who helped lead the study, published early online in the journal Genes and Development.

Inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis, is a leading reason for hospital admission, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Chronic pancreatitis is also a risk factor for cancer of the pancreas.

Each year, about 210,000 people in the United States are admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis, which can be caused by alcohol abuse, gallstones, and autoimmune disorders.

The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, as well as the National Pancreas Foundation.

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