A scientific discovery leads to hope that deadly pancreatic cancer could be treated with a new class of drugs.
Researchers from Cancer Research UK have found that tumour suppressing genes are being ‘turned off’ in pancreatic cancerous cells.
The scientists screened mice for tumour suppressing genes that, under normal circumstances, would protect against cancer. These genes act like the cell's 'brakes', preventing the cell from multiplying out of control.
In mice with pancreatic cancer, the gene is switched off in some pancreatic cancer cells. With this gene turned off, there is nothing to stop the cell from dividing uncontrollably.
Further studies then showed that the same thing was happening in human pancreatic cancer. Scientists argue that up to 15% of pancreatic cancers could be down to turning this one gene off.
Cancer of the pancreas is not as common as other forms of cancer, but it is one of the most serious.
Around 7,800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, and less than one in five people with the disease are still alive a year after diagnosis.
Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers say that drugs are being tested which have the potential to turn the gene back on.
Professor David Tuveson, from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, said: "We suspected that the fault wasn't in the genetic code at all, but in the chemical tags on the surface of the DNA that switch genes on and off, and by running more lab tests we were able to confirm this.
"Drugs which strip away these tags are already showing promise in lung cancer and this study suggests they could also be effective."
If you want to be covered for pancreatic cancer on your private medical insurance, compare health insurance policies with full cancer cover.
© ActiveQuote Ltd. 2012