Researchers decode origin of inflammation-driven pancreatic cancer

August 5, 2013

Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida have revealed the process by which chronic inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis, morphs into pancreatic cancer. They say their findings point to ways to identify pancreatitis patients at risk of pancreatic cancer and to potential drug therapies that might reverse the process.

The study, published online today in The Journal of Cell Biology, maps how inflammation pushes in the pancreas—those that produce —to transform into duct-like cells. As these cells change, they can acquire mutations that can result in further progression to pancreatic cancer, says senior author Peter Storz, Ph.D., a biochemist and at Mayo Clinic.

"We don't know why these cells reprogram themselves, but it may be because producing enzymes in an organ that is injured due to inflammation may cause more damage," Dr. Storz says. "The good news, however, is that this process is reversible, and we identified a number of molecules involved in this pathway that might be targeted to help push these new duct-like cells back into acinar cells, thus eliminating the risk of cancer development."

The scientists are testing the ability of drugs already on the market to reverse this cellular transformation in the pancreas in mice models of human pancreatic cancer. Dr. Storz's research team traced the pathway leading from inflammation in the pancreas to development of cancer in the organ. They followed what happened once macrophages responded to an . Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that eats foreign material in the body.

"The belief in the field has been that macrophages were there to remove damaged cells in the organ," Dr. Storz says. "We found they weren't that benign. In fact, we discovered macrophages themselves drive the transformation and provide the setting for development of cancer."

The research team also discovered that if the pancreas is inflamed, fluid from the pancreas contains signaling molecules that induce acinar cells to transform into duct-like cells. Study co-author Massimo Raimondo, M.D., a gastroenterologist, is part of a Mayo team that has developed a method to collect this fluid from the pancreas during a routine upper endoscopy test.

"We want to also investigate whether these two enzymes can serve as an early warning system, a marker of pancreatic cancer risk, in patients with pancreatitis," Dr. Storz says.

"Our hope is that we can detect that risk before cancer happens, and use a treatment that reverses any possibility that pancreatic cancer will develop," he says.

Explore further: Molecular marker from pancreatic 'juices' helps identify pancreatic cancer

Related Stories

Molecular marker from pancreatic 'juices' helps identify pancreatic cancer

May 20, 2013
Researchers at Mayo Clinic have developed a promising method to distinguish between pancreatic cancer and chronic pancreatitis—two disorders that are difficult to tell apart. A molecular marker obtained from pancreatic ...

Molecular master switch for pancreatic cancer identified, potential predictor of treatment outcome

February 12, 2013
A recently described master regulator protein may explain the development of aberrant cell growth in the pancreas spurred by inflammation

Scientists find new molecule to target in pancreatic cancer treatment

January 3, 2013
Researchers at Mayo Clinic in Florida have identified a new target to improve treatment of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma cancer, which accounts for more than 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases. This fast-growing, often ...

Scientists edge closer towards first pancreatitis treatment

July 24, 2013
Scientists have for the first time provided proof of principle for a drug-based treatment of acute pancreatitis – a disease for which currently there is no treatment.

Study sheds light on how pancreatic cancer begins

November 29, 2012
A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is particularly devastating since the prognosis for recovery is usually poor, with the cancer most often not detected until late stages.

Pancreatic cancer: Tackling the tumour by targeting its surroundings

June 28, 2013
With fewer than 5 percent of sufferers surviving beyond five years of diagnosis, pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal of all cancers. Late diagnosis is one reason for these statistics, but so is the aggressive nature ...

Recommended for you

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

Discovery could lead to better results for patients undergoing radiation

July 19, 2017
More than half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, in which high doses of radiation are aimed at diseased tissue to kill cancer cells. But due to a phenomenon known as radiation-induced bystander effect (RIBE), in which ...

Definitive genomic study reveals alterations driving most medulloblastoma brain tumors

July 19, 2017
The most comprehensive analysis yet of medulloblastoma has identified genomic changes responsible for more than 75 percent of the brain tumors, including two new suspected cancer genes that were found exclusively in the least ...

Novel CRISPR-Cas9 screening enables discovery of new targets to aid cancer immunotherapy

July 19, 2017
A novel screening method developed by a team at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to test the function of thousands of tumor genes in mice—has ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.