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New biomarker and potential biotherapy found for pancreatic cancer

8 October 2013

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati in the USA have discovered a biomarker for pancreatic cancer - a molecule called phosphatidylserine, or PS for short. Furthermore, they believe that PS could be effectively targeted by biological therapies.

The research findings show that the use of a biotherapy (a therapy using of biological materials) could be used to search out PS molecules, which are found on the surface of pancreatic cancer tumour cells, and kill them.

The study builds on previous research which combined two natural component of cells - a specialised protein known as SapC, (which contains enzymes that can break down a variety of biological components), and a type of lipid molecule known as DOPS that forms part of the cell wall  - and enclosed them into tiny cell cavities called nanovesicles. These nanovesicles were then targeted at a range of specific cancers in mice and were shown to kill the cancerous cells, without harming healthy ones.

The new project, published in the online journal PLOS ONE, was led by Xiaoyang Qi, PhD, associate professor of hematology and oncology at the University of Cincinnati. He explained that a distinguishing feature of the SapC-DOPS combination is its ability to bind to the PS molecule, now known to be present on pancreatic tumours. “This study looked at targeting the cell wall of pancreatic tumours so see if we could destroy malignant pancreatic cancer cells without harming normal tissues and cells,” he said.

Nanovesicles containing SapC-DOPS and human tumour cells were each labelled with different fluorescent dyes so that they could be tracked and monitored by an imaging device. The human tumour cells were introduced into mice, and the nanovesicles injected later. 

"We observed that the nanovesicles selectively killed human pancreatic cancer cells, and the noncancerous, or untransformed cells, remained unaffected,” Dr Qi  said.

He added that animals treated with the SapC-DOPS combination showed clear survival benefits and their tumours shrank or disappeared.

The researchers hope that their technology will lead to clinical trials to further evaluate its potential as a new therapy.

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