Mapping pancreatic cancer genes reveals hidden secrets for treatment

PancCurrent cancer researchreatic cancer has long been considered a mysterious, deadly disease. It has the highest mortality rate of all the major cancers, and it is one of the few cancer types for which survival has not substantially improved over the last 40 years.

But two Australian researchers can now tell us why. They know how to fix it, and ACRF funding will play a pivotal role in the realisation of their treatment plan.

Professors Sean Grimmond from Brisbane’s Institute for Molecular Biosciences (IMB), and Andrew Biankin from the newly opened Kinghorn Cancer Centre in Sydney (formerly of the Garvan Institute) led an international team of researchers towards this ground-breaking discovery.

They sequenced the genes of 100 pancreatic tumour cells and, in order to determine the genetic changes which lead to the cancer, they compared their results to normal tissue.

Incredibly, they found more than 2,000 mutated genes implicated in causing pancreatic cancer.

While the ‘KRAS’ gene was mutated in 90% of samples, there were hundreds of unique gene mutations that were only present in 1 or 2% of tumours.

“There might be as many as 100 different sub-types of pancreatic cancer, so it’s no wonder that chemotherapy doesn’t work in all patients,” Professor Biankin summarised.

Professor Grimmond expanded, “’Personalised medicine’, where the molecular profile of a patient is matched to the best treatment, is the way the world is moving for many diseases, not just cancer.”

“The challenge now will be in moving from … a ‘one drug fits all’ model to personalised healthcare. First we must take the time to develop the necessary genetic knowledge and implement health systems to translate that knowledge effectively.”

The next-generation technologies (pictured above, right) required to further identify and test personalised therapies are located in the new ACRF Molecular Genetics Facility at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre. This equipment was provided via a $5 million ACRF grant.

The ACRF has also funded the Institute of Molecular Biology’s world-class research teams, and we are proud to be associated with another of their success stories.

You can read the full report in Nature.

Or click here for the Garvan Institute’s press release.