The study shows that it is possible to reverse a key process that allows pancreatic cancer cells to grow and spread around the body – ScienceDaily

Scientists have shown that it is possible to reverse a key process that allows pancreatic cancer cells to grow and spread throughout the body.

These findings published in natureshow that a protein called GREM1 is key to regulating the type of cells found in pancreatic cancer – and manipulating its levels can both feed and reverse the ability of these cells to change into a more aggressive subtype. .

Researchers believe that this fundamental discovery could eventually pave the way for new treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, have studied pancreatic cancer with a gene that makes the GREM1 protein turned off in mice and in pancreatic “mini-tumors,” also known as organelles.

The exclusion of GREM1 causes tumor cells to rapidly change shape and develop new properties that help them invade new tissues and migrate around the body. In just 10 days, all tumor cells changed their identity to a dangerous, invasive cell type.

Exclusion of the gene also made tumors in mice more prone to spread. The researchers studied a mouse model of ductal adenocarcinoma of the pancreas (PDAC) – the most common and aggressive form of the disease. About 90% of mice without functioning GREM1 developed tumors that had spread to their liver, compared with 15% of mice in which GREM1 was functioning normally.

Most importantly, the researchers, who were largely funded by the Cancer Research Institute (ICR), which is not only a research institute but also a charity, then showed that raising GREM1 levels could reverse this process. and cause invasive cell types to return to a less dangerous form. Researchers hope to use this knowledge in the future to find ways to turn more advanced pancreatic cancer into a less aggressive form that is easier to treat.

Researchers working at the Toby Robins Breast Cancer Research Center now at ICR emphasize that science is at an early stage and significant amounts of research will be needed to find and develop treatments that change the fate of PDAC cells and drive the tumor. to respond better. to therapies. However, fundamental discoveries such as these are crucial in guiding efforts to find new drugs and treatments for cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rates of common cancers. Less than seven percent of people will survive five years or more. More than 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year and more than 9,000 will die from it.

The researchers also found that another protein called BMP2 was involved in the regulation of GREM1 and that these two proteins regulated the form that PDAC cells eventually took, according to a mathematical model first proposed by Alan Turing in 1952. These ” Turing models are found in nature – from the patterns on the skin of giant smoke fish to mussels – and strikingly the same type of model is found in the different cell types found in pancreatic cancer. Further studies are needed to determine if this model is applicable to other forms of cancer.

Professor Axel Behrens, head of the cancer stem cell team at the Institute for Cancer Research, London, and senior author of the study, said:

“This is an important and fundamental discovery that opens a new way to discover the treatment of pancreatic cancer. We have shown that it is possible to reverse the fate of pancreatic cancer cells in the laboratory – turning the clock back on aggressive tumors and switching them to a condition that makes them easier to treat.

“By better understanding what drives the aggressive spread of pancreatic cancer, we hope to now use that knowledge and identify ways to make pancreatic cancer less aggressive and more treatable.”

Professor Christian Helin, CEO of the Institute for Cancer Research, London, said:

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the most devastating of all cancers – the most common form of the disease spreads aggressively, making it difficult to treat and a terrifying diagnosis for patients and their loved ones.

“This new discovery has broadened our understanding of the molecular basis of how pancreatic cancer acquires the ability to grow and spread throughout the body. Although more work is needed, this type of basic research is essential for developing concepts for new and more -effective treatments for cancer. “

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