In Australia this year, some 3,200 new cases of pancreatic cancer
will be diagnosed, and 2,900 patients will die of the disease.
But research led by the University of Melbourne reported in the International Journal of Cancer
could eventually improve treatments with the identification of a
protein that appears to help tumor cells become more aggressive.
‘Targeting p21-activated kinase 1 (PAK1) could reduce the fibrosis surrounding pancreatic tumors and allow conventional chemotherapies to have a greater effect on the tumors.’
University of Melbourne pancreatic surgeon Mehrdad Nikfarjam, and
research associates, have identified a protein called p21-activated
kinase 1 (PAK1), in specific tumor cells called stellate cells.
Researchers were able to slow down growth and spread of tumors by
targeting this protein in stellate cells in animal models, in
combination with current chemotherapies.
Stellate cells are responsible for the fibrosis or scarring that
surrounds pancreatic tumor cells, reducing the effectiveness of
The study investigated the role of PAK1 in these stellate cells and how they communicate with the tumor cells.
PAK1 was found to be involved in the fibrotic production,
proliferation and death of these cells, and could assist tumor cells to
become more aggressive.
Targeting PAK1 resulted in decreased scar tissue formation, reduced
tumor growth, increased tumor sensitivity to chemotherapy and
increased survival of mice.
Associate Professor Mehrdad Nikfarjam said that although further
testing is needed, an inhibitor could potentially increase survival of
patients with pancreatic cancer.
"Targeting PAK1 could reduce the fibrosis surrounding pancreatic
tumors and allow conventional chemotherapies to have a greater effect
on the tumors."
"PAK1's role as an important signalling protein in both the tumor
and tumor environment is an important finding in unraveling the puzzle
that is pancreatic cancer," Associate Professor Nikfarjam said.