Pancreatic tumor cells circulating in the bloodstream reveal potential mechanism of disease progression

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Pancreatic tumor cells circulating in the bloodstream reveal potential mechanism of disease progression

The extremely prestigious scientific journal Nature published a paper online on July 3, 2012, describing analyses of circulating tumor cells in the bloodstream of mice with pancreatic cancer. David Ting, MD is co-first author of the paper, and received a 2009 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Fellowship Award. Dr. Ting’s research grant from our organization was cited among the sources of funding that supported this project. Also among the collaborative authors on the paper is Nabeel Bardeesy, PhD, recipient of the 2008 Randy Pausch, PhD – Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Pilot Grant. The work primarily took place at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center.

Cells typically found in organs such as the pancreas are not normally detectable in the bloodstream of mice or humans. However, previous research has shown that cells may shed from tumors and be found in small numbers in the bloodstream of mice or humans with pancreatic and other cancer types. These cells are known as circulating tumor cells (CTCs). CTCs are considered to be the source of cells that spread and form metastases in other organs.

Here, Dr. Ting and colleagues analyze the CTCs found in mice genetically programmed to develop pancreatic cancer. Interestingly, their studies revealed that a gene known as WNT2 was found in much higher levels in the CTCs, compared to normal cells of the pancreas or even cells that remain within the primary pancreatic tumor. The authors hypothesize that WNT2 expression and activity may contribute to the metastatic process. Further experiments will be necessary to determine the role of WNT2 in pancreatic cancer progression and spread, and to investigate whether WNT2 may be a therapeutic target to prevent metastasis of pancreatic tumors.

Click here to read the scientific abstract of this paper.
Click here to read the Massachusetts General Hospital press release.

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