Michigan investigators finger ATDC gene for aggressive pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer has long loomed as one of the most aggressive killers, typically leaving patients with a poor prognosis and specialists with few options for effective treatment. But now a team at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor says they have new reason to believe that a particular gene is responsible for the fast-spreading cancer--offering a clear target for drug developers.

Adding to earlier work on the topic, the researchers said that the ATDC gene--found in 9 of 10 pancreatic cancer cases--plays a big role in tumor progression and metastasis. Using a mouse model for the disease along with human tissue from pancreatic cancer as well as preinvasive lesions, the team concluded that there was clear evidence that ATDC drove the development of pancreatic cancer stem cells.

Diane Simeone

"We know that patients with the earliest stage of pancreatic cancer have a survival rate of only 30 percent. This suggests that even in that very early stage of invasive cancer there are already cells that have spread to distant parts of the body," says study author Dr. Diane M. Simeone, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. "This study sheds important light on what it is about pancreatic cancer that makes it so aggressive early in the game."

This isn't the first time that ATDC has been fingered for metastasis in pancreatic cancer. But the group says that it's been a tough target for drug developers because there's never been more than a vague understanding of the protein's crystal structure. To remedy that they've been doing work on a 3D structure that could be used to identify a therapeutic.

The study appeared Jan. 15 in Genes and Development.

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