Scientists discover mechanism controlling spread of pancreatic cancer

pharmafile | June 30, 2022 | News story | Business Services, Medical Communications  

New findings, published in Nature, show that a protein called GREM1 is key to regulating the type of cells found in pancreatic cancer. Through the discovery, scientists have shown it is possible to reverse a process allowing pancreatic cancer cells to grow and spread throughout the body.

The scientists found that manipulating the levels of GREM1 can both fuel, and reverse, the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to change into a more aggressive subtype. The researchers believe that this fundamental discovery could ultimately pave the way for new pancreatic cancer treatments.

Professor Axel Behrens, Leader of the Cancer Stem Cell Team at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and senior author of the study, commented:

“This is an important and fundamental discovery that opens up a new avenue for uncovering treatments for pancreatic cancer. We have shown that it is possible to reverse cell fate in pancreatic cancer in the lab – turning back the clock on aggressive tumours and switching them to a state that makes them easier to treat.

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

Switching off GREM1 caused the tumour cells to rapidly change shape and develop new properties, helping them invade new tissues and migrate around the body. Within just 10 days, all the tumour cells changed their identity into a dangerous, invasive cell type. Meanwhile, boosting the GREM1 levels could reverse this process, and cause invasive cell types to revert into a less dangerous form.

Researchers hope in the future to use this knowledge to find ways to reverse more advanced pancreatic cancer into a less aggressive form, which is easier to treat.

Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, concluded:

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

“This new finding has broadened our understanding of the molecular basis of how pancreatic cancer gains the ability to grow and spread around the body. Although more work is required, this type of fundamental research is essential for developing concepts for new and more effective treatments for cancer.”

Ana Ovey

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