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Monday, February 22, 2021

What if We Could Starve Pancreatic Cancer to Death?

 Is it possible?  Could there be a way to starve pancreatic cancer cells to death?

There might be!

Enter a new study from Columbia University. It is shedding light on a compound in development that might starve pancreatic cancer tumors of an amino acid that is critical to their survival.

The amino acid they're talking about is called cysteine.  All of our cells need small amounts of cysteine to survive.  But cancer cells seem to be completely dependent on importing large amounts of cysteine into the tumors to grow.  

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are currently developing an experimental drug that breaks down cysteine in the blood.  It is called cysteinase. Ironically, this compound is being developed for the treatment of a rare kidney disease called cystinuria.  Scientists formed the bridge to pancreatic cancer when it was discovered that cysteine was also critical to the survival of these cancer cells.

In trials, when cysteinase was added to human pancreatic cancer cells in tissue culture, the cancer cells died.

Yay!  Moving on to trials in mice... when the gene that controls cysteine import was knocked out by the cysteinase in the mice, the cancer's supply of cysteine was cut off and the tumors stopped growing. Double Yay!

* Side note:  have you ever wondered how they find mice with pancreatic cancer?  Me too! Like, how do they know that the mice have pancreatic cancer so they can use them in the trial?  Well, click here for the long version.  But in a nut shell, these mice are genetically engineered mice.  They carry mutations in their genes that mimic specific human diseases.  The drawback is that they are not always precise or reliable in predicting a human response.  Still... when a drug has success in a trial with mice, it is often moved on to clinical trials for us.  And that is an important step.  So thank you, all you genetically engineered mice for your service!

Back to cysteinase.  A team from Columbia, headed by Dr. Kenneth P. Olive, is waiting on the development of cysteinase so that they can begin testing it in pancreatic cancer trials.

Dr. Kenneth P. Olive

"We're very encouraged by these results {thus far}," says Dr. Olive. 

And one of the most exciting aspects according to the team is that the cysteine action against the cancer cells did not appear to harm the healthy, normal cells.

Dr. Olive explained, "You might imagine that all the cells of your body need every amino acid equally, but we knew from prior studies that most normal cells need only very low levels of cysteine.  Our whole goal in targeting this difference between normal cells and cancer cells is to develop a treatment that is toxic to cancer and gentle on the rest of the body."

And we're up against the clock.  Pancreatic cancer is a ferocious opponent.

"Pancreatic cancer is a uniquely lethal disease, with an average survival rate of just six  months after diagnosis."

Dr. Olive underscores the urgency,

"We're in desperate need of new treatments."

I am so thankful for Doctors like Dr. Olive, who is dedicated to finding a cure for pancreatic cancer. We are deeply grateful they are in the trenches with us... never giving up and fighting hard for treatments that will put an end to the nightmare of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

And that is good news for today.

Prayers for Hope to carry you along this journey... you are never alone.

My Love, 

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