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Pancreatic cancer is 'four different diseases'

07 March 2016

By Kulraj Singh Bhangra

Appeared in BioNews 842

A collaboration between scientists from around the world has identified four subtypes of pancreatic cancer.

According to the research group, the discovery of these subtypes could lead to new and personalised treatments for pancreatic cancer.

'This is the most comprehensive analysis of the blueprint of pancreatic cancer,' said Professor Andrew Biankin, a senior author of the study from the Institute of Cancer Sciences at the University of Glasgow. 'So this knowledge reveals what makes these cancers tick and which ones may be vulnerable to particular treatments by defining the Achilles' heel of every cancer.'

The team analysed the genomes of 456 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas – a common form of pancreatic cancer – to look at the genetic pathways involved in the development of the disease. The researchers, from Australia, the US, Germany, Italy and the UK, published their results in Nature.

'We identified 32 genes from ten genetic pathways that are consistently mutated in pancreatic tumours. But further analysis of gene activity revealed four distinct subtypes of tumours,' said Professor Sean Grimmond of the University of Melbourne Centre for Cancer Research in Australia, who led the study.

The research team dubbed these four subtypes as: squamous; immunogenic; pancreatic progenitor; and aberrantly differentiated endocrine exocrine tumours.

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK and is notoriously hard to treat. The five-year survival rate is less than three percent and has remained unchanged since the 1970s. There are large differences in survival rates between the different types.

'It's just a really tough cancer,' Dr Biankin told BBC News. He added that there is hope that matching drugs to specific mutations in tumours could help patients. 'The fact that we see, through chance, that some patients respond exceptionally to a particular therapy allows us to expand these insights so we can treat more patients with similar cancers at a genetic level.'

Leanne Reynolds, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, who was not involved with the study, said: 'The findings of this research are incredibly exciting. If we can predict more accurately which treatment would be most effective for each patient, we can ensure patients have the best chance of living for as long as possible, as well as possible.'

Currently, other research groups are testing treatments for other types of immunogenic tumours. Professor Grimmond's team wants to investigate whether such treatments could work for immunogenic pancreatic cancers.

Initiatives, such as Know Your Tumor in the USA, also intend to capitalise on this research by offering personalised medicine through the profiling of pancreatic tumours, which can aid clinicians to choose the best treatment plan for the patient.


20 February 2017 - by Jamie Rickman 
Researchers have used whole-genome sequencing to uncover new mutations responsible for a rare type of pancreatic cancer...
13 June 2016 - by Rachel Reeves 
Genetic sequencing leading to targeted treatment significantly improves cancer patient outcomes in early-stage clinical trials, according to a study...

03 August 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have found that prostate cancer can be divided into five subgroups with distinct genetic fingerprints...
07 May 2013 - by Suzanne Elvidge 
Genetic analysis of tumours provides the key to treating them effectively, according to two studies carried out by The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA)....
29 October 2012 - by Rivka Marks-Maran 
Thousands of genetic mutations associated with pancreatic cancer have been identified in an international study...
08 May 2012 - by Cait McDonagh 
A gene that usually prevents excessive cell growth may be switched off in aggressive pancreatic cancers, scientists have reported...
08 August 2011 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Genetic differences between two types of stomach cancer could help doctors select the most effective treatment for a patient's tumour, say Singapore researchers. The research team used a new, better method of classifying tumours to distinguish 'diffuse' from 'intestinal' tumours....

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