Irish researchers have discovered new clues as to how pancreatic cancer develops with the hope of creating new treatments in the future.
Although it is relatively rare, the cancer is one of the most deadly.
It is largely a “silent disease” to begin with and its symptoms often only show up when the disease has already spread to nearby organs.
However, new research by scientists at Dublin City University and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US has uncovered clues about the biology of the predominant form of pancreatic cancer – pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).
Despite only accounting for about 3pc of all cancers, PDAC is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the US and its incidence is increasing.
Previous genetic studies have identified particular variations in a person’s DNA sequence that are linked with a higher risk of developing PDAC. However, little was known about how these variations affect the development of the disease.
The study by DCU and NCI identified genes that may have previously seemed to be on the fringes of involvement in PDAC.
But when they were taken as part of a bigger biological picture, these groups of genes appeared to play an important role in the disease.
The researchers looked at existing genetic information from several large studies of over 9,000 people who developed PDAC and compared it to almost 12,500 controls without PDAC. They identified five biological pathways associated with PDAC.
DCU researcher Dr Naomi Walsh, lead author of the new study published in the ‘Journal of the National Cancer Institute’, said: “Now that we have identified these pathways, we can start examining their roles more closely in the pancreas and in the development of cancer.”
She said that by knowing more about the pathways, scientists could look for new ways to identify people who are at higher risk of developing PDAC and devise new types of treatment.