APR 19, 2021 6:58 AM PDT

Understanding why pacreatic cancer metastasizes

New research published in the journal Gastroenterology reports on the mechanisms of metastatic pancreatic cancer cells, helping to illuminate the reasons why pancreatic cancer spreads. According to the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine scientists who carried out the investigation, the devil is in the details, and the details are dominated by a protein called ZIP4 that is responsible for transporting zinc throughout the body. 

Lead researcher on the project Min Li, Ph.D., along with Courtney Houchen, M.D., explains that overexpression of ZIP4 in pancreatic cancer patients triggers tumor cells to change from an epithelial to a mesenchymal phenotype, which allows them to move throughout the body undetected.

"That transition means the tumor cells are doing everything they can to avoid the surveillance of the body's immune system, as well as chemotherapy and other therapies," Li said. "They become more evasive and are able to penetrate the blood vessels, which permits them to go anywhere in the body."

Li explains that during this transition the cancer cells literally change shape, switching from a square shape to a spindle form. They also slow their growth so as to be able to pass by the immune system without detection. 

"This is important because when tumors are in the form of epithelial cells, they are easier to kill with chemotherapy," Li said. "But when they switch to mesenchymal cells, they become resistant to treatment. Tumor cells are very smart and are like creatures with multiple faces. That's why we are looking for the right moment to target them with different strategies."

Pancreatic cancer continues to be a challenging cancer to treat. Overall survival rate remains low at 9% and over 60% of patients suffer from metastasis within the first 24 months after surgery. "People diagnosed with many other types of cancers have seen an increased survival rate in the past 30 years, but that's not the case with pancreatic cancer," Li said.  

Houchen adds, "Once a patient has metastatic disease, no therapy can extend life more than six to eight months. It's clear that metastatic spread has to be stopped if we're going to improve survival rates. This study helped us to understand the role of ZIP4 in the epithelial-mesenchymal transition. Somewhere in that shape-shifting process is where we need to intervene to stop the metastasis."

Sources: Gastroenterology, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
JUN 16, 2021
Cancer
New drug attacks pancreatic tumors with mutant KRAS addiction
JUN 16, 2021
New drug attacks pancreatic tumors with mutant KRAS addiction
Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to detect in early stages, which is why it is associated with a low survival ...
JUN 22, 2021
Cancer
Evaluating adverse effects of induction therapy for neuroblastoma
JUN 22, 2021
Evaluating adverse effects of induction therapy for neuroblastoma
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports an evaluation of the chemotherapy treatment given to child ...
AUG 19, 2021
Cancer
Japanese Berry Vine Could Treat Lung Cancer
AUG 19, 2021
Japanese Berry Vine Could Treat Lung Cancer
A berry-producing vine in Japan has shown promise in mouse models for treating lung cancer. The corresponding study was ...
OCT 04, 2021
Cancer
Good News for Coffee Lovers: A New Study Finds Caffeine Does Not Impact Breast Cancer Risk
OCT 04, 2021
Good News for Coffee Lovers: A New Study Finds Caffeine Does Not Impact Breast Cancer Risk
Reports indicate that caffeine consumption in the United States is greatest in adults aged 50 – 64.  Coincide ...
OCT 14, 2021
Immunology
'Bio-Betters' Form the Next Wave of Cancer Therapies
OCT 14, 2021
'Bio-Betters' Form the Next Wave of Cancer Therapies
  Antibodies are blood proteins with highly specialized functions: to recognize and eliminate bacteria, viruses, an ...
OCT 12, 2021
Immunology
Cancer Drug Helps Alzheimer's Mice Remember
OCT 12, 2021
Cancer Drug Helps Alzheimer's Mice Remember
What if a drug—specifically developed to treat one disease—had the potential to address other non-related co ...
Loading Comments...