JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Researchers at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Jacksonville say they have identified first steps in the origin of pancreatic cancer and that their findings suggest preventive strategies to explore.
In an online issue of Cancer Discovery, the scientists described the molecular steps necessary for acinar cells in the pancreas — the cells that release digestive enzymes — to become precancerous lesions. Some of these lesions can then morph into cancer.
“Pancreatic cancer develops from these lesions, so if we understand how these lesions come about, we may be able to stop the cancer train altogether,” says the study’s lead investigator, Peter Storz, Ph.D., a cancer biologist.
he need for new treatment and prevention strategies is pressing, Dr. Storz says. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive human cancers — symptoms do not occur until the cancer is well advanced. One-year survival after diagnosis is only 20 percent. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in this country.
The scientists studied pancreatic cells with Kras genetic mutations. Kras produces a protein that regulates cell division, and the gene is often mutated in many cancers. More than 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases have a Kras mutation.
The researchers detailed the steps that led acinar cells with Kras mutations to transform into duct-like cells with stem cell-like properties. Stem cells, which can divide at will, are also often implicated in cancer.
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