Skip Content

US team sheds light on how pancreatic cancer spreads around the body

1 May 2013

A team of US scientists has discovered that a protein found in cells around pancreatic cancer tumours helps the disease to spread to other organs.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have found that the protein, called palladin, helps cancerous connective tissue cells - known as cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) - to build a particular type of cell sub-unit. These cell sub-units, called invadopodia, break down the barriers between cells and forge channels for tumours to spread throughout the body.

Lead researcher, Carol Otey PhD, professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, said: “There is a growing body of literature that shows that these cells have a role in cancer formation and metastasis.”

Previous research using cultured cancer cells suspended in layers of collagen showed how CAFs containing invadopodia created channels through the collagen layer by using both enzyme action and physical force. Cancer cells were then recorded travelling along the channels.

In mammals, fibroblasts are the most common type of cells found in connective tissue and usually play a key role in wound healing, but cancer-associated fibroblasts - CAFs - have been hijacked to help the tumour and are the most numerous cells found in the whole tumour environment. Professor Otey discovered the existence of palladin in 2000 and showed that CAFs surrounding pancreatic tumours create high levels of the protein.

In the new study, published in the journal Oncogene, Professor Otey and her team used a range of methods to prevent palladin from working properly in mice, which resulted in CAFs being less able to form invadopodia. In contrast, increasing the level of palladin in CAFs resulted in an increased growth rate and spread of tumours in the mice.

Professor Otey says that this suggests that palladin may be part of a specific sequence of chemical interactions, or ‘molecular pathway’, which would offer the opportunity to develop new drugs to halt the chain of events and prevent tumour progression.

The research team intend to look at levels of palladin in other types of cancer to see if the spreading mechanism they have discovered is the same.

< Back