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Important genetic changes in pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center collaborated to publish a study in the prestigious journal Science in January 2011. Contributors to this paper include Anirban Maitra, PhD, recipient of a 2004 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network -- AACR Career Development Award, and Ralph Hruban, MD, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Scientific Advisory Board member. This work focuses on identifying key genetic changes in a rare form of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic neuroendocrine (also known as islet cell) cancer.

For more information about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, please click here. These tumors represent less than five percent of all pancreatic cancer diagnoses, and typically have a longer survival rate than the more commonly diagnosed form, pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Genetic analyses of 68 pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors revealed that mutations in three genes were significant to patient survival. Researchers found that when the genes MEN-1, DAXX, and ATRX were mutated, patients lived approximately ten years after diagnosis. By contrast, about 60 percent of patients without those mutations passed away within five years of diagnosis. This knowledge can enhance scientists’ focus on developing novel therapeutics tailored specifically for individual patients’ genetic changes.

In addition, these studies showed that another gene, mTOR, is mutated in 14 percent of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors. There are clinically available drugs that target mTOR, suggesting that these treatment options may be effective for specific pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer patients. Further clinical trials are necessary.

Click here for a link to the scientific abstract.

Click here for the Johns Hopkins press release regarding this study.

For more information about pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors, or other questions related to pancreatic cancer treatment or diagnosis, please contact a Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) Associate toll-free at 877-272-6226 or email pals@pancan.org. PALS Associates are available M-F 7am-5pm Pacific Time.