Pancreatic cancer discovery offers new hope for patients

Pancreatic cancer discovery offers new hope for patients

A set of mutated genes responsible for causing pancreatic cancer have been discovered by Australian researchers and revealed in a new study published in the journal Nature.

This is the first time a collaboration of the world's best experts has been carried out to determine the genetic factors that influence 50 different types of cancer.

According to the report, pancreatic cancer accounts for more deaths than any other major type of cancer. Survival rates have not improved over the last 40 years, acting as the fourth-leading cause of death from cancer. Common symptoms of pancreatic cancer include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Appetite Loss
  • Pain in the upper part of the stomach (abdomen), which can spread to the back
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Diabetes mellitus or high levels of blood sugar
  • Depression
  • Trosseau sign (when blood clots pop up out of nowhere in the deep veins of a person's extremities, superficial veins anywhere on the body, or in the portal blood vessels
Experts noted that early pancreatic cancer sometimes does not come with any symptoms what-so-ever. According to previous research, pancreatic cancer patients' lives can be saved if they visit more experienced hospitals and facilities.

The international team of more than 100 researchers was led by Professor Sean Grimmon, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland, and Professor Andrew Biankin from The Kinghorn Cancer Centre at Garvan Institute of Medical Research / St. Vincent's Hospital in Sydney.

The experts sequenced the genomes from 100 pancreatic tumors and analyzed them in comparison with non-cancerous tissue to discover which genetic alterations may have caused the cancer.

Grimmon said:

"We found over 2,000 mutated genes in total, ranging from the KRAS gene, which was mutated in about 90 per cent of samples, to hundreds of gene mutations that were only present in 1 or 2 per cent of tumors. So while tumors may look very similar under the microscope, genetic analysis reveals as many variations in each tumor as there are patients. This demonstrates that so-called 'pancreatic cancer' is not one disease, but many, and suggests that people who seemingly have the same cancer might be to be treated quite differently."

Biankin commented that in the future, independent diagnoses and treatment plans for each patient will be the "norm". He said, "In this study, we found a set of genes, the axon guidance pathway, that is frequently damaged in pancreatic cancer patients and is associated with potentially poorer outcomes for those patients. It is a new marker of pancreatic cancer that can be used to direct prognoses and treatments."

Biankin continued: "'Personalized medicine', where the molecular profile of a patient is matched to the best treatment, is the way the world is moving for many diseases, not just cancer. The challenge now will be moving from population healthcare and a 'one drug fits all' model to personalized healthcare. First, we must take the time to develop the necessary genetic knowledge and implement health systems to translate that knowledge effectively."

The Professors noted that the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative, which involves over 20 hospitals and research facilities, of more than 200 nurses, surgeons, pathologists, and experts, played a large part in their study.

Professor Warwick Anderson, from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, which funded the study with a $27.5 million grant, said: "NHMRC is proud to have been the major funding contributor to this research, and I am delighted that breakthroughs have been made in understanding the genetic basis of this disease. This positive outcome is evidence of NHMRC supporting the very best research and researchers, and the importance of our involvement in strong national and international collaborations. The ultimate goal of our funding is healthier citizens, both in Australia and overseas, and this research will certainly lead to a better understand of this issue."

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Section Issues On Medicine: Disease