RNA molecule in blood could be indicator of pancreatic cancer

14 November 2013

A specific RNA molecule is present in the blood of most pancreatic cancer patients, according to research at Indiana University, suggesting it could be a diagnostic marker for the usually fatal disease.

Research published in the journal Oncogene, showed that the RNA molecule microRNA-10b (or miR-10b)- is present at high levels in the blood of most pancreatic cancer patients. Consequently, miR-10b could serve as a diagnostic marker as well as help physicians determine the disease’s aggressiveness.

Such a marker would be an advance against pancreatic cancer because current treatments typically only extend a person’s life for six to 10 weeks. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and diagnose because there are no noticeable signs or symptoms in the early stages and because the pancreas is hidden behind other organs such as the stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, spleen and bile ducts.

Dr Murray Korc, the Myles Brand Professor of Cancer Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and colleagues made the discovery after studying biopsies of people with pancreatic cancer. Dr. Korc showed that miR-10b promotes the invasion and growth of pancreatic cancer cells by modulating signaling and gene expression. In particular, the miR-10b facilitates abnormal signaling by allowing the epidermal growth factor receptor, a protein made by many cells in the body and by some types of tumors, to be more efficient. Therefore, the cancer grows and spreads.

Dr. Korc likened the presence of miR-10b to a souped-up car that is more like a tank because of the enhancements. So, for those people with miR-10b, their pancreatic cancer is especially aggressive. And pancreatic cancer is already an aggressive disease without that molecule.

Only 6% of people with the disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be an estimated 45,220 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 38,460 deaths from the disease in 2013.

Those patients with high levels of miR-10b resist chemotherapy more and their disease returns sooner after treatment than those without the molecule, Dr. Korc added. He said more research is needed, as these findings are preliminary.

The findings follow recent research at Johns Hopkins Medicine in the US that found two genes, BNC1 and ADAMTS1, which were detectable in 81% of blood samples in pancreatic cancer patients.

See MTB Europe news: New hope for blood test to catch pancreatic cancer early


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