A global team led by scientists from The Methodist Hospital Research Institute has identified more than 500 genes that may cause or contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer. This particularly deadly disease has a 1-in-20 survival rate after five years, largely because no effective genetic screening method exists for early detection.
Principal investigators Nancy Jenkins, Ph.D., and Neal Copeland, Ph.D., report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online soon, that the vast majority of the 543 genes they identify in mouse models have identical or highly similar versions in humans, and that 20 of those equivalent genes were found to be strongly associated with poor survival in human pancreatic cancer patients.
“Knowing what genes are involved in the development of pancreatic cancer, as well as what those genes’ functions are and how they influence signaling pathways, will be crucial to the development of new drugs and other therapies,” said Copeland, director of the Methodist Cancer Research Program and a National Academy of Sciences fellow.
The scientists show in the PNAS paper that many of the new pancreatic cancer candidate genes are associated with signaling and metabolic pathways that influence cell-to-cell communication, division, and the protection of the cell’s chromosomal DNA, and are therefore plausible cancer genes.
The work described corroborates single-gene work done in humans, and vice versa, and could help people find out whether they are at risk for developing the disease, he said.
The kind of pancreatic cancer the scientists were studying is called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, and is the most common type of pancreatic cancer. Among all cancers, this type of cancer is the 4th deadliest. Only one in four patients diagnosed with this survive a year, and one in 20 are alive after five years.
Jenkins and Copeland emphasize the importance of developing new tools to identify people who at risk for developing pancreatic cancers, so people and their doctors can be more vigilant about the development of the disease, as well as developing biomarkers that can tell pathologists when the disease has begun, and how aggressive it is likely to be.
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