Study offers insights into how pancreatic cancer develops: Atlas of pancreas tumors reveals important new findings in treatment resistance, possible new therapies

Study offers insights into how pancreatic cancer develops: Atlas of pancreas tumors reveals important new findings in treatment resistance, possible new therapies

Pancreatic cancer has few treatment options and limited survival, with only 9% of patients still living five years after diagnosis.

But a detailed analysis of pancreatic cancer by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has revealed details of two key transition points in the development of these tumors — the shift from normal cells to precancerous cells, and the change from precancerous to cancerous cells. Understanding these transitions will help lead to the development of novel therapies. The study also provides insights into treatment resistance and how immunotherapy could be harnessed to treat this aggressive tumor type.

The study, published Aug. 22 in the journal Nature Genetics, is part of the Human Tumor Atlas Network, funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Moonshot program, all part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Also, as part of an ongoing phase 1 immunotherapy clinical trial at Siteman Cancer Center — based at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine — the researchers are conducting the same detailed analyses performed in the current study to see how tumors from patients respond to two investigational drugs that prime the immune system to attack the cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer is so difficult to treat, and to develop better treatments we need to understand how normal, healthy cells in the pancreas transition to becoming cancerous,” said co-senior author and computational biologist Li Ding, PhD, the David English Smith Distinguished Professor of Medicine and a professor of genetics. “This marks the first time these transitions have been mapped out in such detail in human tumors. Our findings are jumping off points for the future development of new treatment strategies for this deadly cancer.”

The researchers conducted a deep analysis of the genetics and protein manufacturing of 83 pancreatic tumor samples donated by 31 patients who participated in the study. They noted how the tumors differed across the volume of the tumor and at various times as the patients underwent treatment.

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