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US research offers potential new treatment strategies for pancreatic cancer

3 March 2011

New research at the University of Georgia has identified a protein that can be modified to improve the effectiveness of one of the most common drugs used to treat pancreatic cancer.

New research at the University of Georgia has identified a protein that can be modified to improve the effectiveness of one of the most common drugs used to treat pancreatic cancer.

The study, recently published in the journal Cancer Research, found that a cell-surface protein called CNT1, which transports cancer-killing drugs into tumour cells, was reduced in function in two thirds of pancreatic tumours. By improving the function of CNT1, the researchers increased the effectiveness of the cancer-killing drugs in pancreatic tumour cells derived from human patients. 

Lead researcher Raj Govindarajan from the University’s College of Pharmacy, said: "The transporter was failing to take up the drug, so there were a bunch of different drug-resistant tumour cells." Therapies that restore CNT1 could increase the effectiveness of the drug by helping carry the drug into the cell."

The drug most commonly used to treat pancreatic cancer is called gemcitabine, which works by entering into the DNA of cancer cells and preventing them from replicating. Many pancreatic tumour cells are resistant to gemcitabine, which makes the disease very difficult to treat.

The team identified different methods to improve CNT1 function and slow the growth of the tumour cells. They found that by using additional drugs to block pathways that damage CNT1, they could partially restore its normal function and transport more gemcitabine into the tumour cells to prevent proliferation of the tumour.

Govindarajan said that the findings need to be evaluated in laboratory animals for both effectiveness and toxicity aspects to determine if they are feasible therapeutic options. He hopes that future studies will confirm the possibilities of combining additional therapies with gemcitabine to more effectively treat pancreatic cancer.

The study was funded by the US National Cancer Institute.

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