Potential New Target Identified for Treating Pancreatic Cancer

Potential New Target Identified for Treating Pancreatic Cancer

Researchers at Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University have identified a potential new target that could be used in a novel treatment for pancreatic cancer, one of the types of cancer that is difficult to treat. The researchers conducted a mouse study which has provided new insights into how pancreatic tumors develop, which could potentially be used to develop new treatments.

The researchers found that preventing the expression of a protein called PKN2 resulted in a change to the behavior of healthy fibroblast cells that surround a pancreatic tumor. When PKN2 expression was blocked in the fibroblasts, pancreatic tumors grew much more aggressively. The researchers explained that fibroblasts act like the gatekeepers of pancreatic cancer tumors and can have an effect on how pancreatic cancer develops, in a positive or negative way.

The researchers found that when activated through PKN2, fibroblasts provide a defense against pancreatic tumors and help to limit the spread of the tumor by keeping the cancer cells packed tightly together within the tumors. When PKN2 was blocked, the ability of the fibroblasts to contain the tumor was greatly reduced. While it may seem counterintuitive, blocking PKN2 expression could have a positive effect, as it could allow more immune cells into a tumor.

New strategies are needed for treating cancer, not just for targeting cancer cells, but also the healthy cells that support cancer growth. “Our study contributes to the understanding of the biology of the invasive process in pancreatic cancer, and the roles that fibroblasts play,” said Angus Cameron, PhD, senior lecturer at Barts Cancer Institute, and study lead. “In our future work, we hope to identify effective drugs to target PKN2, which can be used in laboratory models of pancreatic and other cancers. This will allow us to test how targeting this pathway changes the way cancers develop, which is a key step towards clinical application.”

You can read more about the study in the paper – Disruption of pancreatic stellate cell myofibroblast phenotype promotes pancreatic tumor invasion – which was recently published in Cell Reports. DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2021.110227