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.
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.
Stellate cells are responsible for the fibrosis or scarring that surrounds pancreatic tumor cells, reducing the effectiveness of chemotherapy.
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.