Pancreatic cancer avoids chemotherapy

All cancers are uphill battles, but statistically, pancreatic cancer is the toughest one statistically for anyone. New research has finally uncovered how pancreatic cancer cells have been able to evade the effects of chemotherapy. The research was led by Timothy Yen, a biochemist at the Fox Chase Research Center in Philadelphia and have published their results in the journal Cell Cycle.

Researchers have uncovered a perplexing puzzle about cancer: how do pancreatic cells avoid destruction? The question is not easy to answer nor is it easy to really begin answering.However, it seemed that either the drugs used were not well-understood in the context of pancreatic cancer or that the cancer was able to do something to stop the drugs.

“More likely, cancer cells have found a way to avoid DNA-damaging drugs,” said Yen.

Yen’s approach was trial by elimination. His objective was to slowly knock out each gene in the cell, and then expose the cell to chemotherapy. The cells with the greatest death rate give researchers a clue to which genes cancer cells are utilizing. Yen and his research team took out each gene found in pancreatic cells, totalling approximately 2,400. They then used a common pancreatic cancer chemotherapy drug, gemcitabine, to see which removed genes would cause a greater effect. In other words, which removed gene would allow the drug to kill the cells most efficiently. Although this approach yields many results which may indicate why pancreatic cells avoid destruction, one gene stood out amongst them. A gene that binds to vitamin D, which is important for bone maintenance was found to cause the most death in the exposed cells after removal.

“When we inactivated this vitamin D receptor in cancer cells and added gemcitabine, almost all of them died,” said Yen.

The nature of the cells’ usage of this vitamin D receptor is not clear. In other words, this study gave no clue to how the cancer cell was using this gene, but hypothesized it is a factor. Researchers now hope they can find a way to inactivate the vitamin D receptor in cancer cells and then use pancreatic chemotherapeutic agents to kill those cells.

Cancer is a class of diseases that icludes more than 100 different types. Pancreatic cancer and lung cancer have the highest death rate in Canada. According the Canadian Cancer Society, 2,400 men will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 2,200 will die from it, and 2,300 women will be diagnosed with the disease and 2,200 will die from it.

Usually, people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do not have many treatment options. First, the cancer is usually detected in the late stage of the disease. Second, the cancer spreads very rapidly, and third, the drugs currently used are not very effective. The hope is that this research will help double the survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients by 2020.

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