Pancreatic cancer blood test & gene studies show promise

NEW ORLEANS -- Pancreatic cancer kills swiftly and surely, and often goes undiagnosed until it's far too late for doctors to provide the only cure: surgery. But new research being reported here this week may give patients a better chance at early detection, firm diagnosis and, someday, better treatment options for the fourth leading cause of cancer death.

Today, researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center announced that they have found a protein which allows them to tell pancreatic cancer from normal tissue better than the current "gold standard" blood test used nationwide. They believe this protein, called CEACAM 1, could be used to detect early signs of cancer, especially in those patients at highest risk for the disease.

Yesterday, the same team reported new findings about the basic cellular processes that allow pancreatic cancer to develop. The discovery of "crosstalk" between two cell signaling pathways involved in the disease may yield clues as to why pancreatic tumors develop, and perhaps one day lead to innovative ways to stop them.

Also today, the U-M researchers reported initial results from gene-based efforts to tell pancreatic cancer from its more common imposter: chronic inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis. By looking at expression levels for three genes in tiny tissue samples removed from patients through a slender needle, they were able to distinguish the two conditions. More research is needed, but the technique could lead to new ways of telling pancreatitis from cancer without the need for surgery.

All three announcements were made at the Digestive Diseases Week meeting here.

"We're definitely getting closer to the kinds of innovation that will be needed to increase patients' odds of finding and surviving pancreatic cancer," says Diane Simeone, M.D., whose laboratory team made the cell signaling discovery and who co-leads the U-M effort to translate basic genetic researc

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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