Pancreatic Cancer is “not one disease but many”
A large-scale study into the genetic drivers for over 100 pancreatic cancer tumours has been carried out in order to understand the underlying genetic mutations that are responsible for pancreatic cancer development.
The potentially ground-breaking research, published in the journal Nature, involved an international team of over 100 researchers who sequenced the genomes* of 142 pancreatic cancer tumours and compared them to normal pancreas tissue to determine the genetic changes that lead to this cancer.
Professor Sean Grimmond from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at the University of Queensland and Professor Andrew Biankin for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney led the research.
Professor Grimmond said, “ We found over 2,000 mutated genes in total ranging from the KRAS gene which was mutated in about 90 per cent of samples, to hundreds of gene mutations that were only found in only one or two per cent of tumours.”
He added, “ While tumours may look similar under the microscope, genetic analysis reveals as many mutations in each tumour as there are patients.
“This demonstrates that so-called ‘pancreatic cancer’ is not one disease but many and suggests that people who seemingly have the same cancer might need to be treated quite differently.”
As well as identifying the genetic mutations, the researchers have also discovered a new pathway that they think may be important in pancreatic cancer spread called the axon guidance pathway. This pathway is frequently damaged in pancreatic cancer and is often associated with a poorer outcome for patients.
The axon guidance pathway normally regulates the way the brain and the nervous system develop. It is thought that the spread of pancreatic cancer occurs along the nerve axons and this study could help us further understand why this happens.
The researchers believe that this axon pathway could be a new prognostic marker for this disease and be used to tailor treatments.
Professor Biankin said, “Such individual genetic diagnoses and treatments represent the future of healthcare. ’Personalised medicine’, where the molecular profile of a patient is matched to the best treatment, is the way the world is moving for many diseases, not just cancer.”
Source: Garvan Institute (Sydney) Media Release.
*[A genome is the complete genetic material of an organism, which is contained in the chromosomes. It is the full DNA sequence of the organism and is usually stated in base pairs]
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