Researchers at Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London, supported by a partnership between the UK charities Worldwide Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, have made a discovery that reveals new insight into how healthy cells help pancreatic tumours develop, which they hope will lead to the development of new drugs for this hard to treat cancer.
The research, led by Dr Angus Cameron, found that blocking expression of a protein, called PKN2, changed the behaviour of healthy cells around the tumour. These cells, called fibroblasts, which are highly mobile and invasive, not only protect pancreatic cancer from treatment, but also aid in spreading it around the body. The researchers therefore hope that targeting fibroblasts to change their behaviour could affect how pancreatic cancer develops.
When the researchers blocked expression of PKN2 in the healthy cells of a pre-clinical model of pancreatic cancer, the tumour grew more aggressively. However, the fibroblasts switched to a less mobile and invasive state and instead promoted inflammation – this is known to make tumours more aggressive but can also make them more responsive to immunotherapy.