Scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute have shown that pancreatic cancer metastasis—when tumor cells gain the ability to migrate to new parts of the body—can be suppressed by inhibiting a protein called Slug that regulates cell movement. The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, also revealed two druggable targets that interact with Slug and hold promise as treatments that may stop the spread of pancreatic cancer.
“Pancreatic cancer cells are notorious for their ability to escape from a tumor. Even when pancreatic cancer is caught early, tumor cells are often already found circulating throughout the body,” says Cosimo Commisso, Ph.D., associate professor in Sanford Burnham Prebys’ NCI-designated Cancer Center and senior study author. “Our study suggests that we may be able to create treatments that stop pancreatic cancer cells from untethering in the first place, which could reduce metastasis and help more people survive this deadly cancer.”
Stopping the migration of hungry cancer cells
Pancreatic cancer cells grow rapidly and quickly deplete the nutrients in their environment. To meet their energy needs, tumor cells boost metabolic pathways that normal cells don’t use. Commisso is working to understand how pancreatic cancer cells respond to nutrient deprivation—focusing on the most commonly depleted nutrient, glutamine—with the goal of finding treatments that stop the growth of cancer cells without harming healthy cells.