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Pancreatic cancer: a particularly tough opponent

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 Pancreatic Cancer: A Particularly Tough Opponent

Pancreatic cancer is a particularly formidable type of cancer, with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) standing out for its aggression. This type of cancer grows and spreads so rapidly that most patients face grim statistics: only about 8% survive more than five years after diagnosis.

In a world where effective treatments for PDAC are lacking, a spark of hope has emerged from recent research from the Francis Crick Institute. A team of scientists led by Axel Behrens has discovered new insights that could pave the way for better treatment options. Their findings, detailed in the journal Nature Cell Biology, shed light on a specific aspect of cancer biology that could be key to slowing its growth, reports Knowridge Scientific Report.

At the center of their research are cancer stem cells, which play a critical role in both the initiation and progression of tumors. Like stem cells found in healthy tissues that help repair and regenerate our organs, cancer stem cells have the ability to start new tumors and transform into various types of tumor cells. This makes them particularly formidable, as they contribute to cancer spreading and becoming more difficult to treat.

During their research, the researchers focused on analyzing the genes expressed in these stem cells and discovered a protein called CD9, which appears on the surface of these cells. They realized that CD9 was present not only in advanced tumors, but also in those that were just beginning to form. This was an important discovery because it suggested that CD9 could serve as a marker to identify these aggressive cancer stem cells in the early stages of tumor development.

However, CD9’s function goes beyond simply marking these cells. The researchers discovered that this protein also influences the degree of malignancy of cancer stem cells. By experimenting with CD9 levels in mouse cancer cells, they observed that reducing CD9 led to smaller tumors, while increasing it caused the cells to become more aggressive, resulting in larger, faster-forming tumors.

Further analysis revealed an even more direct connection between CD9 and cancer severity. Data from existing clinical studies showed that patients whose tumor cells had high CD9 levels had a worse prognosis, and approximately 10% of PDAC patients showed elevated levels of this protein.

To unravel how CD9 contributes to cancer growth, scientists looked at how cancer stem cells metabolize nutrients. They found that CD9 enhances cells’ intake of glutamine, a nutrient that drives rapid cancer growth. By increasing glutamine uptake, CD9 essentially feeds the cancer, helping it grow and spread.

This advance provides a new angle of attack in the fight against pancreatic cancer. By targeting the CD9 protein, future treatments could potentially inhibit the uptake of glutamine by cancer cells, starving the cancer and stopping its growth. These strategies could not only prolong the lives of people diagnosed with this deadly disease, but also improve their quality of life, offering a ray of hope where there was little before.

As research progresses, the possibility of translating these findings into real-world treatments offers a glimpse of a future in which pancreatic cancer could be much more manageable or even curable. It is a testament to science’s relentless quest to find new ways to combat one of the most challenging diseases known to humanity.

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