Cell receptor may lead to new 'biomarker' for pancreatic cancer

CINCINNATI -- A research team led by University of Cincinnati (UC) scientists has identified a potential biological target for pancreatic cancer, a finding they say could help scientists better understand -- and eventually treat -- the disease that kills more than 33,000 people each year.

In laboratory studies led by Andrew Lowy, MD, and Susan Waltz, PhD, the Cincinnati researchers found that a specific cell receptor -- known as the RON receptor tyrosine kinase -- was overexpressed, or increased, in pancreatic cancer cells. This, says Waltz, suggests the receptor may also contribute to the diseases development.

The RON receptor has been found to be active in several cancers -- including breast cancer -- but its role in pancreatic cancer was unknown. This is one of the first studies, published in the July 1, 2007, issue of the journal Cancer Research, to report a link between the RON receptor and pancreatic cancer.

Receptor tyrosine kinases are proteins on the cell surface used to activate specific body functions -- for example cell growth and migration.

A normal pancreas has very low levels of RON, but our study showed that as tumors progress, so does the level of RON expression in the pancreas cells -- and those overexpressed levels were maintained in metastases, the areas that the tumors spread to, explains Waltz, associate professor and director of the oncology research program in UCs surgery department.

The team found that the RON receptor was active in 93 percent of what is known as pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasia, an early form of pancreatic duct cancer. In addition, the receptor was present in 79 percent of primary pancreatic cancers and 83 percent of metastatic cancers.

UC researchers believe the RON receptors signaling pathways could be a key factor contributing to pancreatic cancer progression. Waltz says if the receptor could be blocked, it would give drug developers a new target for R

Contact: Amanda Harper
University of Cincinnati

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