A study published today in the journal Nature provides a deeper understanding of why pancreatic cancer spread, or metastasis, is most commonly found in the liver.
The research finds that cells of the liver, called hepatocytes, react to inflammation in the early stages of pancreatic cancer, making the organ particularly suitable for cancer spread.
The study was conducted in the laboratory of Gregory Beatty, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of Hematology-Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a member of Penn's Abramson Cancer Center. Jae Lee, an MD/PhD graduate student in Beatty's lab, is the study's lead author. Beatty is also a two-time Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) research grant recipient.
"The research performed by Dr. Beatty and his team is crucial as we strive to better understand this disease," said Lynn Matrisian, PhD, MBA, chief science officer at PanCAN, who wasn't involved in the study. "By learning why pancreatic cancer commonly metastasizes to the liver, we can find ways to slow or even halt that process."
Beatty's research team has pinpointed a cellular signaling molecule known as IL-6 that may play a critical role in stimulating this inflammatory response and readying the liver for metastatic spread.
"We do not know if blocking IL-6 will be sufficient to reverse the susceptibility of the liver to cancer spread," explained Beatty, "but we're eager to continue to test this theory in the lab and eventually in the clinic."
This work was partially funded by Beatty's first PanCAN research grant, a 2015 Career Development Award, generously funded by an anonymous foundation. In addition, Beatty currently serves as a member of the organization's Scientific and Medical Advisory Board.
"My team and I are deeply grateful to PanCAN for their initial support of this project – the Career Development Award was the catalyst for our findings," Beatty said. "Being a part of the PanCAN community and Scientific and Medical Advisory Board has allowed my team and me to engage in a unified fight against pancreatic cancer and to better understand the challenges and research opportunities that can be most impactful for patients."
"Funding research like Dr. Beatty's that drives the field forward is one of our great honors," said Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, president and CEO of PanCAN. "By working together, we ultimately hope to create more effective treatment options and better outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients."
Pancreatic cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and is anticipated to become the second around 2020. In 2019, an estimated 56,770 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States, and approximately 45,750 will die from the disease.
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