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New method could make chemotherapy more effective against pancreatic cancer

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

Researchers from the University of Manchester who conducted numerous lab tests have discovered a potential new method that makes chemotherapy treatments more effective against pancreatic cancer. An aggressive cancer with limited options for treatment, the scientists believe they have found a strategy that kills cancer cells without damaging healthy ones.

Led by Jason Bruce, M.D., from the Physiological Systems and Disease Research Group, the team discovered that cancer cells in the pancreas possibly have their own energy supply that maintains low levels of calcium and keeps the cancer alive. To examine their hypothesis, the researchers used cells from human tumors and blocked the two energy sources that operate within them.

Mitochondria and glycolysis are the two main sources of energy in cells, with the former generating about 90 percent of the cells' energy. However, there is a shift in the cells toward glycolysis as the main source when it comes to pancreatic cancer. In their tests, the team blocked the two sources and made an exciting discovery. The results, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, showed that when glycolysis was blocked, the calcium pump became inhibited, which caused a toxic overload of calcium and the death of cells.

"It looks like glycolysis is the key process in providing ATP fuel for the calcium pump in pancreatic cancer cells. Although an important strategy for cell survival, it may also be their major weakness. Designing drugs to cut off this supply to the calcium pumps might be an effective strategy for selectively killing cancer cells while sparing normal cells within the pancreas," explained Bruce.

The threat of pancreatic cancer
Their research is very integral to improving the quality of care for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It is one of the most aggressive and deadliest cancers that, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society, killed more than 38,000 people in 2013 alone. Most patients' symptoms develop after tumors have begun to spread to other organs, making early screening and blood testing significant to the survival potential due to the cancer's resistance to chemotherapy and radiation.

The team's findings can change the way pancreatic cancer is handled, as a new approach to develop effective treatment was necessary. Even though the lifetime risk of developing this cancer is a little more than 1 percent, the rates of pancreatic cancer have been slowly increasing over the last 10 years. The link between energy suppliers in cancer cells may lead to further revolutionary research that alters future treatment methods.

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