Health Pancreatic cancer “Achilles’ heel” could lead to new treatment

Pancreatic cancer “Achilles’ heel” could lead to new treatment

A UNSW-led research team has discovered a possible “Achilles’ heel” for pancreatic tumours, providing a new target to test tumour sensitivity to drugs.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the worst survival rates, with fewer than 8 per cent of patients surviving for five years after they are diagnosed.

At the moment the genetic mechanisms underlying pancreatic cancer cell metabolism are not yet fully understood. But understanding how tumours reprogram their metabolism to make the raw materials for building new cells could be the key to developing new cancer therapies.

After analysing the DNA from pancreatic tumours, the UNSW team believes that mutations in the cells’ mitochondria may play a role in shifting the cell’s metabolism to a state that favours tumour growth.

“Rapidly growing tumour cells require huge amounts of raw building materials and change the way they use different metabolic fuels to adapt to this need” said team member and cancer biologist at UNSW Medicine’s School of Medical Sciences, Dr Darren Saunders.

One fuel source for pancreatic cancer cells is amino acids, the building blocks of peptides and proteins. The researchers found that pancreatic cancer cells convert certain amino acids to fat, an essential component of new tumour cells, driving tumour growth.

“We believe this may be an Achilles’ heel in the cancer cell’s biology. If we can stop this conversion of amino acids to fat, we may be looking at a potential new therapy for pancreatic cancer,” Dr Saunders said.

Read more about this important study here. Story credit: UNSW newsroom.

Research to uncover new therapeutic strategies for cancer is only possible if we support Australia’s universities. To keep Australia clever, please sign the petition below.