Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most aggressive forms of pancreatic cancer, and currently, there are no effective therapies to treat it.
Only 8% of patients survive beyond five years after diagnosis.
However, a recent study by scientists at the Francis Crick Institute may have identified a potential target for new treatments.
The study, published in Nature Cell Biology and conducted by Axel Behrens and his team, analyzed a specific group of tumor cells called cancer stem cells.
Similar to how healthy human stem cells repair tissues and organs, these cells have the ability to start new tumors and can also differentiate into different types of tumor cells.
As these cells are a driving force behind cancer growth, being able to identify if they are present is an important step toward the development of new treatments.
By analyzing the gene expression of the cancer stem cells, the team found that a protein called CD9 is present on their surface both when the tumor is developing and when it is more established.
This protein could, therefore, be used as a marker to help locate these cells.
The researchers further showed that this protein is not just a marker of cancer stem cells, but also promotes their malignant behavior.
The researchers altered the amount of CD9 in tumor cells in mice and found that when the levels of this protein were reduced, smaller tumors formed. Conversely, increasing levels of CD9 made cancer cells more aggressive and able to form large tumors quickly.
These findings were supported by existing clinical data showing that patients whose tumor cells have more CD9 have a poorer clinical prognosis. About 10% of people with this type of cancer have amplified levels of CD9.
To understand the mechanism behind how CD9 bolsters cancer, the team looked into cancer stem cell metabolism.
Their findings showed that CD9 increases the rate cells take up glutamine, an amino acid that helps provide energy for cancer to grow.
The team says the finding could guide the development of new treatments that are targeted at the protein and so cut off the supply of glutamine to cancer stem cells, effectively starving cancer.
Such treatments would be a big step forward in the fight against pancreatic cancer and could potentially save many lives in the future.
If you care about cancer, please read studies about how to reduce pancreatic cancer spread by nearly 90%, and green tea could help reduce death risk in type 2 diabetes
For more information about health, please see recent studies about new way to increase the longevity of cancer survivors, and results showing vitamin D supplements strongly reduces cancer death.
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