Two-time Pancreatic Cancer Action Network research grant recipient helps define earliest stages of pancreatic cancer development

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Two-time Pancreatic Cancer Action Network research grant recipient helps define earliest stages of pancreatic cancer development

Matthias Hebrok, PhD is one of the lead authors of a study recently published in the prestigious journal Cancer Cell. Dr. Hebrok received a Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Pilot Grant in 2008, funded in memory of Michael C. Sandler, and is currently funded by an Innovative Grant awarded in 2011, in memory of Abby Sobrato. Dr. Hebrok and his colleagues at University of California, San Francisco worked with a collaborative international team of researchers to complete this study.

Previous genetically-engineered mouse models of pancreatic cancer involve mice programmed from birth to develop the disease. A mutated protein called K-Ras is expressed in all the cells of the pancreas, inducing tumor formation. In this study, the authors strove to create a model that more accurately mimics pancreatic cancer that arises in an adult animal.

Dr. Hebrok and colleagues created an elegant mouse model of pancreatic cancer whereby mutant K-Ras was only expressed in certain adult pancreatic cell types at a time. Whereas previous evidence had suggested that pancreatic ductal cells were likely the cell-of-origin of the disease, the research team ascertained that only the K-Ras-expressing acinar cells were able to progress to pancreatic tumors. In addition, the expression of another protein called Sox9 was necessary for tumors to form.

These results shed light on the earliest stages of pancreatic cancer development, and also reveal a potential protein (Sox9) that may be a target to prevent or slow the growth of pancreatic tumors. More work will be necessary to validate these findings and gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between mutant K-Ras and Sox9 expression in pancreatic acinar cells.

Click here for the scientific abstract of the study.

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