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Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer: Scientists See How Tumor Cells Get Reprogrammed For Optimal Malignancy

Update Date: Jan 18, 2017 11:34 PM EST

Metastatic pancreatic cancer, which is a type of cancer that spreads from the pancreas to other tissues, is responsible for most patient deaths. Now, a team of scientists is looking at how the tumor cells get reprogrammed for optimal malignancy which could shed light on its possible reversal.

Could metastatic pancreatic cancer be treated? A new study led by investigators at Johns Hopkins University reported a full genomic analysis of tumor samples from a small number of people who died of pancreatic cancer.

Published in the journal Nature Genetics, they found that epigenetic changes control how DNA operates to converse survival advantages on pancreatic cancer cells. These advantages let cancer cells live and thrive in other organs like the liver and lungs, which receive blood supply rich in sugar.

"What we found astonished us," Dr. Andrew Feinberg, professor of epigenetics at The Johns Hopkins University, said as reported by Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

"Changes in genes' regulation-not in the DNA sequence of genes themselves-were the driving force behind successful metastases in our experiments, and, as far as we know, this is the first genome-wide experimental evidence for this phenomenon," he added.

The researchers, however, found a compound that reverses the reprogramming and prevents tumor formation in model systems.

"We are not aware of other agents that selectively act on aggressive, distant metastatic disease, so this was a huge surprise to us," Oliver McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said in a press release.

"We're very excited about developing more selective compounds for pre-clinical studies," he added.

If this compound is deemed successful, it might improve the prognosis of people suffering from metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer

When cancer spreads from the site from which it originated in the pancreas to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells. Usually, pancreatic cancer cells metastasize or spread to the liver, dubbed as metastatic pancreatic cancer or advanced pancreatic cancer.

Unfortunately, if a person has advanced pancreatic cancer or metastatic pancreatic cancer, it is not usually possible to cure it, the Cancer Research UK reports. Thus, the discovery of the compound that may hinder the reprogramming of the tumor cells may help reverse the condition or slow down the progression of the disease.

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