Scientists identify potential new treatment for pancreatic cancer

By Ryan Maass  |  Nov. 11, 2016 at 12:19 PM
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NOTRE DAME, Ind., Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Notre Dame say they have uncovered a new approach for treating pancreatic cancer.

In a study led by Notre Dame professor Reginald Hill, medical scientists focused on FDA-approved drugs to find out why many of them don't work on pancreatic cancer. The team found that blocking the release of exosomes may help make chemotherapy more effective. Their findings were published in the journal Oncogene.

"The bulk of a pancreatic cancer tumor is made of approximately 10 percent cancer cells and 90 percent supporting cells. Somehow, the supporting cells have figured out how to survive the chemotherapy," Hill explained in a press release. "Microscopic vesicles called exosomes, bubbles with genetic material released by cells during chemotherapy exposure, are released from supporting cells, educating the cancer cells on how to survive, resulting in a tumor becoming chemoresistant."

During the research, Hill and his colleagues noted conventional treatment methods for pancreatic cancer often cause more harm than good. The study built on prior scholarship which found that patients can develop more advanced cancer when supportive cells are destroyed.

"It was like poking holes into the area around the cancer cells and allowing it to spread," Hill said.

By focusing on the release of exosomes, the team observed a disruption in the relay of information between cancer cells and supporting cells. Researchers recommend using exosome blockers, which are non-toxic, to supplement existing chemotherapy approaches.

Pancreatic cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths, with a five-year survival rate of 8 percent. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 40,000 people will die from the disease in 2016.

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