Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.; each year 30,000 cases are diagnosed, and for the majority of patients the disease is incurable.
Using human cell lines, the researchers showed that pancreatic cancer growth can be arrested by chemically blocking a signaling pathway that previously had been known to be active in human embryonic development. Known as the Hedgehog pathway, this cascade of chemical steps allows proteins to pass along a signal that ultimately leads to changes in gene activity and has already been linked to several other types of cancer.
The research highlights the link between embryonic development and cancer. Proteins that normally regulate rapid growth in the embryo may often be responsible for the out-of-control cell divisions in cancer, the scientists say.
"Surgery has represented the only possible cure for pancreatic cancer patients," said Sarah P. Thayer, MD, PhD, of MGH, co-first and co-senior author of the paper. "However, the majority of patients are diagnosed at an incurable stage of their disease. We have been stymied by our inability to diagnose patients earlier and offer effective treatments."
Thayer deals principally with the surgical management of pancreatic cancer patients, and the disease is the main focus of her research.
Although much more work needs to be done to determine whether the research can be applied to clinical practice, "identifying the role of this pathway in pancreatic cancer offers
Contact: Wallace Ravven
University of California - San Francisco