Pancreatic cancer: Put a cork in it

June 26, 2012 | by Alicia Di Rado

One of the reasons pancreatic cancer is so tough to beat is that it can survive the damage caused by radiation and chemotherapy. But City of Hope researchers figured out a way to make pancreatic cancer cells more vulnerable to therapy. They hope to push their studies into clinical trials in the near future.

Photo of kid with cork in his mouth“Pancreatic cancer patients are a special case of the particularly unlucky, and in many ways the most miserable. The drug and radiation resistance of this cancer is legendary,” says City of Hope physician-researcher Sanjay Awasthi, M.D., who leads the effort.

So the scientists adopted a unique strategy: Put a cork in cancer cells’ exhaust system.

Awasthi, professor in the departments of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, and his team study RLIP76, a protein naturally found in the body. “It pumps out the toxic chemicals that accumulate in the cancer cell as a result of chemo- or radiotherapy, before they can cause cell death,” he explains.

They wondered if taking away the protein might keep the toxins in the cells long enough to kill the cells. So they tried it in the lab.

When they dropped levels of RLIP76 in pancreatic cancer cells and tumors in mice, and then exposed the cells to radiation or chemotherapy, the therapies killed cancer better. An added bonus: dropping RLIP76 also reduced blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in lab mice. So medications that use this strategy to fight cancer might also battle diabetes.

They presented their results at the American Association for Cancer Research’s Pancreatic Cancer: Progress and Challenges conference in mid-June.

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