Each year around 20,000 people in the UK are admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis. One in five of these cases are severe, resulting in around 1000 deaths annually.
Published in the US-based PNAS journal, findings reveal that tests undertaken by scientists at Cardiff University, using an existing calcium channel-blocking compound developed by GlaxoSmithKline, have succeeded in markedly reducing the flow of calcium into isolated pancreatic cells and stopping the root cause of the disease in its tracks.
“The aim of the research was to block excessive calcium entry caused by agents inducing pancreatitis and then test whether this would protect the pancreatic cells from self-digestion and death,” explains Senior Author of the research and Director of Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences, MRC Professor Ole Petersen FRS.
“Our research shows that the calcium channel inhibiting compound offers unique and effective protection against inappropriate activation inside the cells of digestive enzymes, which would cannibalise the pancreas and the surrounding tissue.
“This breakthrough shows huge potential to radically change and improve the outcome for patients suffering from severe pancreatitis. The publication of these findings will open the way for further research involving animals and humans – and, if successful, we shall for the first time be able to treat this often fatal disease.”