Inarguably one of the most lethal forms of the disease, pancreatic cancer is a severe problem plaguing doctors and patients alike when it comes to both treatment options and understanding what is behind it. It’s estimated that within the next year, 33,700 people will be diagnosed with this deadly form of cancer.
Out of that estimate, a scant 400 people will be expected to survive. What’s more, only 10 to 15% of these individuals will glean any sort of benefit from surgery. It’s one of the most devastating forms of cancer, yet thanks to new research, scientists have discovered a piece of the puzzle behind the disease — stem cells.
Stem cells are getting a lot of media coverage these days, especially in the arena of cancer treatment — and for good reason. Thanks to breakthrough research from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, it appears that stem cells actually play a role in the growth of pancreatic cancer. By knowing what causes pancreatic cancer to grow, scientists have a means of understanding how a treatment should work to counter that growth.
Mainly, the researchers feel that many cancer treatments don’t work in patients because they don’t target stem cells directly, which, according to this new discovery, are at the heart of cancer cell replication. Currently, the type of drug that can target stem cells specifically in pancreatic cancer does not exist yet.
However, the new findings from this study are opening the door to novel and exiting treatment options — and further research and development into a more effective solution to pancreatic cancer, if not other forms of cancer as well. The study is published in the February 1 issue of Cancer Research.
According to Dr. Diane Simeone, MD, a researcher involved with the study, “Over the last one to two decades we have not had a significant improvement in the long-term survival rates with pancreatic cancer. I believe that if we can target cancer stem cells within pancreatic cancer we may have an avenue to really make a breakthrough in therapy for this awful disease.”
This is truly encouraging news, as pancreatic cancer has been virtually impossible to successfully treat in many individuals. This new approach of targeting stem cells allows regular cells to be left alone while going straight to the heart of the problem.
As Dr. Simeone explains, “The cells we isolated are quite different from 99% of the millions of other cells in a human pancreatic tumor, and we think that, based on some preliminary research, standard treatments like chemotherapy and radiation may not be touching these cells.”
Since researchers have only recently started to target stem cells in cancer studies, they are discovering that they may be behind some, even potentially all, forms of cancer. In this particular study, the researchers found consistent results in the way the stem cells behaved in different pancreatic cancer patients who participated in the trial. This proved to be a signal to the researchers that they were on the right path by looking at stem cells.
Since current treatment methods don’t target stem cells specifically, the researchers feel it could be the reason why they aren’t making a dent in pancreatic cancer with current treatment methods. Modern medicine needs to redirect its focus when it comes to battling all forms of cancer, not just pancreatic, as stem cells may hold the key to ending this devastating illness in all its forms.
We’ll keep you posted on any new developments in this exciting realm of study as they happen.