DCU researchers publish their paper on new targets for pancreatic cancer therapy

Michelle Cullen

Researchers based in DCU’s School of Biotechnology and the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology have identified new therapeutic targets for pancreatic cancer.

This study was performed by comparing the biological differences between an aggressive and non-aggressive lab model of pancreatic cancer.

The article published in the Journal of Oncology by the Naomi Walsh Cancer Research Group, in collaboration with partners in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, identified that let7c, a microRNA, which acts to control different genes, is lower in the more aggressive models of pancreatic cancer.

Shannon Nelson a PhD student and the first author of the publication said: “We were able to identify potential genes which let7c controls and identified SOX13. We found that SOX13 is more highly expressed in patient tumour samples than in the normal pancreas.”

Pancreatic cancer lab models were used to see what SOX13 does, it was found that when SOX13 was removed from the cells they became less aggressive.

“Pancreatic cancer has the worst outcome of all cancers, with a 5-year survival rate of only 9%,” Nelson said. “While this is a slight improvement from 30 years ago, it is marginal compared to the massive improvements which have been made in other diseases like breast cancer.

“It is our hope that this work will add to the ongoing research within the wider pancreatic cancer research field and can contribute to improving outcomes for patients.”

Nelson, who has studied pancreatic cancer for the past four years, is a final year PhD student based in NICB under the supervisor of Assistant Professor Naomi Walsh.

Nelson has also developed better laboratory models of the disease to better represent how pancreatic cancer grows in patients. This will improve the preclinical research of the disease.

She is working to identify biomarkers (an indicator of a disease) that will allow the identification of people who will go on to develop pancreatic cancer.

“Used in combination with other biomarkers, reduced levels of let7c and increased levels of SOX13 could potentially be used to screen patients to identify if they have pancreatic cancer,” said Nelson.

“However, as our work focused on lab models, and tumour samples, a number of studies would first need to be performed to identify if pancreatic cancer patients have different levels of let7c and SOX13 in their blood compared to someone without the disease.”

Dr Naomi Walsh, senior author of the publication said: “This study adds to the wealth of knowledge on the influence of microRNAs in the context of health and disease, and demonstrates the therapeutic potential of targeting miRNAs, such as the let-7 family, in the context of difficult to treat diseases such as pancreatic cancer.”

Michelle Cullen

Image Credit: DCU