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Pancreatic cancer cells coaxed back into normal cells

24 April 2015

Researchers in the US have shown that pancreatic cancer cells can be “reprogrammed” to turn back into normal cells.

The research team, from Sanford-Burnham UC San Diego and Purdue University were able to make the cancer cells revert to normal cells by introducing a protein called E47. This binds to specific DNA sequences and controls genes that are involved with differentiation and growth.

The lead author of the study, Professor Pamela Itkin-Ansari, from the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute said it appears that pancreatic cancer cells retain a "genetic memory" of being a normal cell, which they hope to be able to exploit.

The study is published in the journal Pancreas. It describes how the team  generated human pancreatic cancer cells that would make levels of E47 that were higher than normal. This caused the cancer cells to stall in the growth phase and turn back into non-cancerous cells.

To see if they would see the same effect in living systems, they introduced the altered cancer cells into to mice, and found that the cells’ ability to form tumours was significantly reduced compared with the untreated cells.

Professor Itkin-Ansari said that they now plan to test tumour tissue derived from patients to see if the see the same results. If so, this could lead to a new therapeutic approach to treat the disease. She also said that the team were screening for molecules that can induce the overexpression of the E47 protein and form the basis of potential new drugs.

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