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Role of rogue protein PAK4 confirmed in pancreatic cancer cells

Role of rogue protein PAK4 confirmed in pancreatic cancer cells

23 February 2017

A new study funded by Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund has ed the role of a protein called PAK4 in the movement and growth of pancreatic cancer cells, and could help researchers find new ways to tackle the disease.

The work, uncovers new evidence that protein PAK4 plays a key role in helping cancer cells to grow and to spread from the pancreas into other areas of the body, a process called metastasis.

The researchers, from Kings College London, also found evidence of a close relationship between this protein and a series of molecule interactions  in cancer cells, known as a ‘pathway'. This particular series of interactions is known as the P13K pathway and is known to be responsible for regulating growth and survival of cancer cells. Several drugs that block the  P13K pathway have already been developed.

 “We’ve seen hints before that PAK4 and the PI3K pathway are linked, but finding evidence of their interaction is an important advance because it gives us additional avenues to explore in testing promising new inhibitor compounds that can tackle this disease,” says Dr Claire Wells, who led the study. “Such studies could lead the way to thinking about combination therapy that could target both PAK4 and PI3K.”

PAK4 is found at particularly high levels in pancreatic cancer cells and this work forms part of a wider investigation into the precise role of this protein in cancer progression.  Dr Wells’ team has previously published research on the importance of PAK4 in other types of cancer, including prostate, breast and melanoma.

The team also found that when they used a special technique to remove PAK4 from the cancer cells, they lost their ability to invade other cells.  “One of the big problems with pancreatic cancer is recurrence – even for people who can have surgery, there’s a really high level of recurrence,” adds Dr Wells. “If we can develop therapeutics that would suppress the movement of cells out of the pancreas, they could be given to patients following surgery and help to prevent that recurrence and spread of the disease.”

Ultimately this research confirms PAK4 as a promising target for new drugs, and a number of potential compounds have already been identified by the researchers for testing. The team is also planning further research to find out more about why pancreatic cancer cells rely on PAK4 and what other proteins and pathways PAK4 is interacting with to drive cell growth and migration.


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