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Cardiff University's pancreas molecule research launches

4 January 2012

Researchers from Cardiff University are about to begin a five year research project studying a molecule that may naturally protect the pancreas against cancer.

Researchers from Cardiff University are about to begin a five year research project studying a molecule that may naturally protect the pancreas against cancer. They will also investigate cells which may link pancreatitis and cancer.

The team has been awarded £2m by the Medical Research Council for this new study, which follows on from Professor Ole Petersen’s discovery last year of a calcium-like molecule which could boost the pancreas' natural protection. The molecule is thought to protect against digestive enzymes that attack the pancreas during chronic pancreatitis, increasing the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Further study on this molecule will investigate special pancreatic cells called stellate cells which the team believe may provide a link between chronic pancreatitis and the development of pancreatic cancer.

The team at Cardiff University's School of Biosciences hope to identify ways of controlling the molecular processes in the pancreas to prevent and possibly treat acute pancreatitis. In addition, they aim to gather information about stellate cells which will be useful in blocking the onset of pancreatic cancer.

Currently, it is known that pancreatitis is most commonly caused by high alcohol intake and gallstones. The team at the university previously found a protein called calmodulin protects the pancreas against the destructive effects of alcohol, which would otherwise lead to pancreatitis and possibly to pancreatic cancer.

This discovery and that of the calcium-like molecule were highlighted in The MRC's review of the most significant developments of 2011.

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