MOLECULAR GENETICS OF PANCREATIC CANCER: RESEARCH AT USC
|Research into the causes of cancer
over the past decade has shown the important role of genetic mutations as
a mechanism for the formation of cancer. Identifying the genetic defects
provides insight into the factors that may be responsible for the development
of a particular type of cancer such as pancreatic cancer. Furthermore this
may also provide novel of opportunities for early diagnosis and treatment
of the cancer.
Several common genetic mutations have been identified in pancreatic cancer. For example the ras gene is mutated in 86 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer, furthermore the p53 and the p16 genes are mutated in up to 30 to 70 percent of patients.
Not only do we get mutation of genes in cancer, we also find that abnormalities in the DNA may lead to activation of the wrong genes in the cell that causes abnormal cell growth and cancer formation. A process called DNA methylation is an important mechanism for regulating the function of the DNA. Many cancers are associated with abnormal DNA methylation leading to altered function of the DNA. Abnormal DNA methylation patterns can be identified with sophisticated molecular biology techniques and provides a finger printing of changes that may be associated with cancer.
USC has an active research program investigating the molecular genetics of pancreatic cancer.
Some of the studies that are currently being researched at USC include:
1. An early diagnostic blood and cytology test for pancreatic time cancer: we are presently examining for early changes in the level of abnormalities in the gene in the blood and pancreatic juice of patients with pancreatic cancer. The studies are being correlated with molecular analysis of the cancer. The objective of the studies used to develop a blood tests that will allow early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
2. Chemo prediction in pancreatic cancer: chemotherapy treatment of pancreatic cancer is empirical at present. Studies in other organ cancers such as in colon cancer and in breast cancer have shown that the molecular defects that are present in the cancer provides sensitivity and resistance to different chemotherapy agents. An important objective of treatment is to identify the sensitivity of the cancer to chemotherapy based on the molecular profile of the tumor. Dr.Lenz at USC is focused on examining for molecular changes in pancreatic cancer and and other gastrointestinal cancers that allow for prediction of response to particular chemotherapy drugs. These studies may allow us to select the chemotherapy that is most appropriate for patient based on the molecular and genetic changes in the cancer.
3.New surgical techniques to minimize the release of cancer cells into the circulation during surgical removal of the tumor: A number of studies have shown that during surgical removal of the cancer, the tugging and pooling of the cancer leads to the release of cancer cells into the bloodstream. These cancer cells can be detected by standard molecular assays. The significance of these circulating cancer cells is not known. Studies are under way at USC to examine whether these circulating cancer cells may give rise to future metastatic disease in patients with pancreatic cancer. We also developing new surgical techniques to minimize the release of cancer cells into the circulation during surgical removal of the tumor.
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