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Scientists find tumor protein key to pancreatic cancer survival

Researchers identified a protein in stellate tumor cells that can slow the growth and spread of the tumor when targeted.

By Amy Wallace
Scientists find tumor protein key to pancreatic cancer survival
Research from the University of Melbourne has found that targeting a certain protein found in pancreatic cancer cells can slow the growth and spread of tumors. Photo by Photographee.eu/Shutterstock

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- A new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia has found targeting a specific protein in pancreatic cancer tumor cells can slow the tumor's growth.

There are 3,200 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed each year in Australia with 2,900 deaths from the disease annually.

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Researchers identified a protein called p21-activated kinase 1, or PAK1, in tumor cells called stellate cells. Stellate cells cause fibrosis, or scarring, that surrounds pancreatic tumor cells, which reduces the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

They found that by targeting these proteins in combination with chemotherapy, they were able to slow the growth and spread of tumors in animal models.

PAK1 is involved in the fibrotic production, proliferation and death of these cells and could make tumor cells more aggressive. By targeting PAK1, researchers found a decrease in scar tissue formation, reduced tumor growth, increased tumor sensitivity to chemotherapy and increased survival in mice.

"Targeting PAK1 could reduce the fibrosis surrounding pancreatic tumors and allow conventional chemotherapies to have a greater effect on the tumors," Mehrdad Nikfarjam, associate professor at the University of Melbourne and author of the study, said in a press release. "PAK1's role as an important signalling protein in both the tumor and tumor environment is an important finding in unraveling the puzzle that is pancreatic cancer."

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The study was published in the International Journal of Cancer.

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