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Pancreatic cancer is not just a disease on it’s own

Scientists have discovered there’s not one, but four different types of pancreatic cancer and 10 different ways a damaged gene can turn healthy pancreas tissue into a cancerous tumour.

cancer cells at work image www.newcures.info

Pancreatic cancer is really four separate diseases with specific genetic triggers that require individualised treatment, a new Australian-led study has discovered.

International research, published in the journal Naturetoday, reveals that there are four sub-types of pancreatic cancer and 10 ‘damaged’ genetic processes that turn normal pancreatic tissue into cancerous tumours.

Some of these processes are related to bladder and lung cancers, opening up the possibility of using treatments for these cancers to also treat pancreatic cancers.

For study lead and director of research at the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research, Professor Sean Grimmond, knowledge is power. Understanding which subtype of pancreatic cancer a patient has will clear the path for a more accurate diagnosis and treatments tailored to an individual’s own molecular makeup.

Some of these processes are related to bladder and lung cancers, opening up the possibility of using treatments for these cancers to also treat pancreatic cancers.

“If you take 10 people with cancer, it’s not the same story every time,” says Prof Grimmond, the Bertalli Chair in Cancer Medicine.

“There are lots of things that can go wrong to cause that cell to go out of control.

“In the past, we’ve used a 300-year-old instrument, the microscope, to look at 20 tumours so in the end, they all look the same.

“But if you look at them on a molecular level, they are all different and they all react to drugs differently.

“What we found was four subtypes of pancreatic cancer and 10 really important cellular processes that seem to be recurrent in damaged DNA, across our studied cohort.”

Prof Grimmond explains that over the seven-year investigation, scientists also learned that some strains of pancreatic cancer bear similar genetic mutations to other cancers like colon, leukaemia, bladder and lung cancer.

That means pancreatic cancer sub-types could be treated with drugs designed for these diseases.

The discovery, which came from analysing the genomes of 456 pancreatic tumours, could also lead to treatments that tackle chemotherapy resistant genes.

bbc
Henry Sapiecha

 

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