Researchers have identified a protein as a potential therapeutic target for pancreatic cancer. They have also found that it carries no adverse effects.
A team of scientists from Spain’s Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) have demonstrated that a new protein known as galectin-1 could pave the way for new types of pancreatic cancer treatment, according to ScienceDaily. Current treatments focus on attacking tumor cells, with limited success. Findings from the recent research suggest that destroying what surrounds a tumor could be more effective.
The IMIM team successfully inhibited galectin-1 in mice with pancreatic cancer. This resulted in a 20 percent boost in the survival rate. Research director Dr. Pilar Navarro said that galectin-1 affects the immune system plus the cells and the structure surrounding tumor cells. Since inhibiting this protein apparently has no adverse effects, the researchers see a lot of potential in using it as a therapeutic target.
It’s impossible for experts to determine why a particular individual develops cancer of the pancreas. However, Johns Hopkins Medicine says that the illness is basically caused by damage to DNA that results in mutations. Most patients who develop the condition inherit one normal but also one mutant copy of an applicable gene. However, behavior such as inhaling carcinogens in smoke from cigarettes can also damage DNA.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that doctors will diagnose 46,420 new cases of pancreatic cancer in 2014, 2.8 percent of all new cancer cases. The agency predicts that in 2014, 39,590 deaths will be linked to this disease, which had just a 6.7 percent five-year survival rate from 2004 to 2010. The most important reason survival is so iffy is that most of the time, doctors are only able to diagnose this type of cancer once it has advanced beyond an early, more easily treatable stage.
Although galectin-1 occurs abundantly in tumors, the protein is not found in a normal pancreas. Other studies have successfully used inhibitors such as molecules and antibodies to inhibit it for other illnesses. The IMIM researchers studied pancreatic tumors from mice both when the growths had high levels of the protein and after it had been depleted. When the protein was absent, they saw less proliferation, less inflammation, fewer blood vessels, and a boost in response of the immune system. All of these factors link to tumors of a less-aggressive nature.
The IMIM results are preliminary. The next step for researchers is conducting preclinical studies in which they treat mice with pancreatic cancer with chemical inhibitors or antibodies to block the protein in order to verify therapeutic value. If the results halt tumor growth, scientists would then propose using the protein on human patients, a process that, while encouraging, could take years.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.