(PHILADELPHIA) -- While new findings from Ohio State University scientists suggest a genetic marker that could help distinguish between chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer and gauge who will do well with cancer treatment, a pharmacologist at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson in Philadelphia sees the discovery as much more.
The researchers have identified "a new level of biological regulation" and potentially an improved way to profile tumors, says Scott Waldman, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, who co-wrote an editorial about the study appearing May 2, 2007 in the journal JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"The findings are significant because they seem to represent a large part of the machinery in the cell that regulates the processing of information from chromosome and gene to the protein machinery that makes the cell run," says Dr. Waldman. "No one knew about this intermediate level of regulation in every cell in the body. Its part of the cells normal machinery that regulates in part how cells become specialized."
The Ohio State team found that preliminary evidence suggesting that the expression pattern of microRNA (miRNAs) small pieces of noncoding genetic material may be useful in distinguishing between chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer and may be able to tell which pancreatic cancer patients will live longer than others. In humans, aberrant expression of miRNAs contributes to cancer by either turning on cancer-causing genes or by inhibiting tumor-blocking genes.
As a result, Dr. Waldman notes, the findings also indicate that these miRNAs can serve as diagnostic markers. "Because they are involved in processes underlying cancer, these specific miRNAs mediate the disease process in different types of cells, such as pancreas or lung, for example," he says. "
Contact: Steve Benowitz
Thomas Jefferson University