Pancreatic Cancer: Can We Turn the Table on this Terrible Disease?

mCancerPartner recently sat down with Multidisciplinary Pancreatic Cancer Clinic.

Diane M Simeone, M.D.

Diane M Simeone, M.D.

mCancer Partner: Why is pancreatic cancer such a difficult disease to treat?

Dr. Simeone:  Over the last one to two decades we have not had a significant improvement in the long-term survival rates with pancreatic cancer. One of the challenges is that it is biologically aggressive and does not respond well to chemotherapy or radiation.

mCancer Partner: Your laboratory studies the molecular events that spawn and grow tumors in the pancreas. Can you describe the lab’s major project?

Dr. Simeone:  In order to achieve important discoveries and produce new therapies that result in longer survival rates for pancreatic cancer patients, we need to look at cancer from many different angles. That’s why we have three major projects at the moment:

1) Pancreatic cancer stem cells: Our group was the first to identify stem cell-like cancer cells that can self-renew in the primary tumor. I believe that if we can target cancer stem cells within pancreatic cancer we may have an avenue to really make a breakthrough in therapy for this awful disease. We are working to understand these stem cells further so we can figure out why they are resistant to standard therapies, and what kinds of approaches might interrupt their reproduction.

2) Understanding the role of the gene ATDC in human pancreatic cancer: This particular gene promotes the biologic aggressiveness of the cancer and makes the cancer cells particularly resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. We are currently investigating the molecular mechanisms by which ATDC does this, as well as its role in the DNA damage response and resistance to standard therapies. By targeting this gene, we may be able to make cancer cells more sensitive to the therapies we already have in hand.

3) Investigating the role of the gene TGFβ in protein signaling: TGFβ is an important regulator of growth inhibition in the pancreas and loss of this growth inhibitory function contributes to pancreatic tumor growth. Certain proteins mediate TGFβ-regulated growth responses in pancreatic cells. In other words, TGFβ should inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the pancreas, but there are proteins that prevent it from doing its job. Once we understand the interaction, we can look for therapies that can interrupt the protein mediation.

mCancer Partner: Do you give community lectures about the latest research on pancreatic cancer?

Dr. Simeone:  Yes, on occasion. I’m presenting a talk later this week to the members of Detroit’s Gilda’s Club on current and future trends in therapeutic treatment for pancreatic cancer. Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit is a wonderful organization. It provides a social and emotional support program for men, women, teens and children living with cancer, their families and friends. Membership and events details are at www.gildasclubdetroit.org/  But probably the best way for your readers to stay up-to-date on pancreatic cancer research is to monitor the U-M Cancer Center’s pancreas research pages. These are updated regularly to show the latest developments, not just in my lab, but in the labs of my U-M colleagues as well.

Continue learning about pancreatic cancer treatment and research at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

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