This week, researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s (UTSMC) Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center released results from a genetic analysis on pancreatic cancer (PC). Their research suggests that most PC tumors carry genetic mutations (abnormal alterations) that could be successfully targeted using existing drugs. The study, entitled, “Whole-exome sequencing of pancreatic cancer defines genetic diversity and therapeutic targets,” was published in the latest edition of Nature Communications.
About Pancreatic Cancer:
According to the CDC, PC ranks fourth as a cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States with over 40,560 deaths attributable to the disease. PC is very difficult to treat and the current survival rate for patients is only 6.7%. One factor that contributes to these dismal statistics is that PC is often diagnosed at a late stage when it is no longer responsive to surgical removal, and chemotherapy only has a modest effect.
In a University press release, Dr. Michael Choti, MD, MBA, Hall and Mary Lucile Shannon Distinguished Chair in Surgery, UTSMC, and study co-author, discusses PCs impact, “PC will surpass breast and prostate to become the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the next 15 years. If we want to change the death rate, we need to increase the investment in understanding the biology of PC and identifying novel treatment strategies.”
About This Study:
With an aim of achieving a better understanding of PC, the research team conducted a comprehensive DNA sequencing of 109 different PC tumors to determine specific genetic features of the disease.
The analysis showed that PC is a dynamic disease with complex biological structures, in which each patient’s tumor was found to be genetically unique.
In a statement about the significance of the study findings, Dr. Agnieszka Witkiewicz, MD, Associate Professor of Pathology, UTSMC, and lead study author, stated “We identified a wealth of genetic diversity, including multiple mutated genes that were previously unknown to pancreatic cancer, an important step in gaining a better understanding of this difficult and particularly deadly disease. Importantly, the team was able to identify several genes that may be able to help us to predict outcomes in certain circumstances or serve as good candidates for therapeutic efforts.”
Dr. Witkiewicz’s collaborator Dr. Erik Knudsen, Professor of Pathology, PhD, UTSMC, shared her enthusiasm for the findings, “While we suspect that genetics can be used as the basis of targeted treatments, this point will only be proven through extensive research and clinical studies, hopefully leading to improved outcomes for patients. I am considerably more optimistic of the utility of a genetically targeted therapy for pancreatic cancer today than when we began this work.”
For PC specialists and researchers, the genetic information that was obtained by this analysis offers hope that new therapeutic protocols using existing drugs could be a solution to achieve a higher survival rate for patients in the future.