New target could improve treatment of deadly pancreatic cancer

With the 5-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer at just 6%--the lowest among all major killer cancers--finding a treatment for the disease could literally be lifesaving for patients.

A new target developed by researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Florida may help improve treatment of ductal adenocarcinoma cancer, which accounts for more than 95% of cases.

The need for effective treatment is apparent, since pancreatic cancer incidence and death rates are on the rise. The disease, which spreads rapidly and is resistant to conventional chemotherapy, is expected to move from the fourth to the second leading killer cancer in the U.S. by 2020--possibly as early as 2015.

Mayo Clinic researchers decoded a molecular pathway that is switched "on" at all times, promoting accelerated growth of pancreatic tumors. That discovery revealed ways to disable the pathway, including the use of the drug bortezomib, which is already approved for several human blood cancers. The findings are published in the Jan. 3 online issue of PLoS One.

"Targeting this pathway to decrease the proliferation of cancer cells may represent a new strategy for pancreatic cancer therapy," senior investigator Peter Storz said in a press release.

Increased levels of NF-kB are a signature characteristic of pancreatic cancer, as the molecule turns on expression of genes that keep the cells multiplying, protecting them from death. NF-kB can be activated by two pathways--the classical and alternative. The Mayo Clinic researchers found that increased activity of the alternative NF-kB pathway results from suppression of TNF receptor-associated factor 2, or TRAF2. Loss of TRAF2 promotes fast growth of pancreatic tumors and correlates with increased aggressiveness.

They concluded that a cocktail of drugs comprising chemotherapy, bortezomib and other inhibitors of molecules activated along the alternative pathway may help pancreatic cancer patients.

- here's the Mayo Clinic press release
- read the research paper

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