Pancreatic Cancer: A Genetic Maze

Pancreatic cancer may involve more than 500 genes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) More and more is coming to light about pancreatic cancer. And the more scientists know, the greater the chances of detecting it early on and finding ways to treat this serious disease.

Scientists from around the world have collaborated to identify 543 genes that likely play a role in pancreatic cancer.

"Consider and discuss with your doctor undergoing genetic testing."

The research team, led by principal investigators Nancy Jenkins, PhD., and Neal Copeland, PhD of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, indicate that humans have very similar or identical versions of these genes found in mouse models.

"Knowing what genes are involved in the development of pancreatic cancer, as well as what those genes' functions are and how they influence signaling pathways, will be crucial to the development of new drugs and other therapies," said Copeland, director of the Methodist Cancer Research Program.

Many of these newly identified pancreatic cancer candidate genes are involved with the cancer cell's growth and its survival mechanisms. As such, they are potentially genes that contribute to the development of cancer.

This work may result in helping people determine if they care genes that put them at greater risk of developing this cancer.

Because pancreatic cancer currently has no screening tests and typically very few obvious symptoms, by the time it's discovered, the disease could be quite advanced.

"Understanding all the genes that influence pancreatic cancer will ultimately impact personalized medicine," said Jenkins, co-director of the Methodist Cancer Research Program and also a National Academy of Sciences fellow. 

For the study, a mouse model was developed that has about 350 copies of moveable genetic elements called Sleeping Beauty. Genomic analysis of tumor cells found the 75 genes that have been previously implicated in pancreatic cancer, along with 463 new ones, including 20 that indicate poor patient outlook.

dailyRx asked pancreatic specialist, James Farrell, MD for perspective. "This study increases the list of possible susceptibility genetic changes, but also provides mechanistic data supporting the importance of some of these genes," said Dr. Farrell, who is director of the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center Endoscopic Ultrasound Division of Digestive Diseases.

He adds, "This will help us further risk stratify patients at risk of developing pancreatic cancer, but further independent prospective validation of these genes will be necessary before clinical application can be made.”

This research is published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 22, 2012
Last Updated:
September 27, 2012