A Chink In Pancreatic Cancer’s Armor?

A Chink In Pancreatic Cancer’s Armor?

Authored by: George M. Pikler, M.D., Ph.D., FACP

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is the 10th most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths after lung and colorectal cancers. 49,830 people died from pancreatic cancer in 2022 according to the National Cancer Institute estimates. Research suggests it is on track to become the second leading cause by the end of the decade.

Despite limited progress in recent years, PDA has the lowest five-year survival rate of any group of cancers, so new treatments are desperately needed. While numerous factors and individual circumstances all influence survival rates, early detection is particularly important. Unfortunately, detecting pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma in its early stages is tough as there are no specific tests to screen for it and it often produces no noticeable symptoms until it has progressed to later stages, at which point it has often spread to other parts of the body. Specific treatments for pancreatic cancers are limited and surgical removal is often not viable in later stages.

Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard1 have discovered that pancreatic cancer cells create essential nutrients by means of an unusual pathway that could be used to kill cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. Whereas all cells in the human body generate polyamines (chemicals that contain more than two amino groups), pancreatic cancer cells are unorthodox in their use of the amino acid glutamine and an enzyme called ornithine aminotransferase (OAT) to do this, researchers found. An OAT inhibitor called 5-fluoromethylornithine suppressed polyamine synthesis in pancreatic cancer cells in mice, but didn’t suppress the activity of healthy cells, suggesting that this pathway could be a way to specifically target pancreatic cancer.

1 Lee, MS., Dennis, C., Naqvi, I. et al. Ornithine aminotransferase supports polyamine synthesis in pancreatic cancer. Nature 2023; 616, 339–347.

Authored by:
George M.Pikler, M.D., Ph.D., FACP
Lead Oncology Advocate N1X10

Dr. Pikler graduated summa cum laude from the Central University of Ecuador School of Medicine in 1968. His postdoctoral training included an internship in internal medicine at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, a residency in internal medicine and a doctoral degree in molecular medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The American Cancer Society awarded him a fellowship in medical oncology and hematology at M.D. Anderson & Tumor Institute in Houston, TX.

With training certifications in internal medicine and oncology, Dr. Pikler and his family moved to Tulsa, OK where he established and was the President of Cancer Specialists, Inc, a boutique oncology-hematology clinical research private practice. In addition, he was the chief of the oncology at Hillcrest Medical Center, a teaching hospital for 20 years and associate professor of medicine, oncology-hematology at the University of Oklahoma, Tulsa Medical College. He was one of the founders of the Southern Association of Oncology Practices and subsequently the National Medical Director for the International Oncology Network, AmerisourceBergen’s Oncology Division.

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