Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have identified a protein that plays an important role in pancreatic cancer growth.
In a study on mice, they found that blocking the expression of the protein connective tissue growth factor (CTGF), also known as CCN2, slowed or prevented tumour growth and made cultured cancer cells vulnerable to the conditions of low oxygen that occur in solid tumours.
"This research clearly shows that inhibiting the protein inhibits the tumour's ability to grow," said cancer biologist Amato Giaccia, PhD.
"Ultimately, we'd like to be able to specifically knock out the expression of this protein in pancreatic tumours in humans," he added.
The researchers have revealed that CCN2 is involved in the abnormal growth of connective tissue in response to injury or disease.
It was also thought to be involved in pancreatic tumour progression, although the exact role it played was unknown.
Giaccia and his collaborators found that human pancreatic cancer cells expressing high levels of CCN2 grew robustly when injected under the skin of mice.
On the other hand, pancreatic cancer cells in which CCN2 expression was suppressed were either less likely, or unable, to form tumours when injected into mice.
They also found that blocking CCN2 expression in cultured pancreatic cancer cells made them significantly more sensitive to hypoxia-induced death than their peers.
Moreover, CCN2 was more highly expressed in pancreatic tumour samples from human patients than in neighbouring tissue, and CCN2 expression seemed to correlate with the expression of another protein expressed by hypoxic cells.
"We saw a pronounced effect of CCN2 inhibition in these experiments in mice," said Giaccia.
"Our hope is that one day a combination of standard therapy and antibody treatment will have an effect on tumour progression in human patients," he added.
The study has been published in the journal Cancer Research.