mouse with cancer cells

Revolutionary new tool could change pancreatic cancer therapies

mouse with pancreatic cancer

Researchers are injecting a modified virus into adult mouse pancreases. The virus delivers pro-cancer molecules that are in human pancreatic tumors. When mice reach 28 to 30 weeks of age, tumors develop that resemble human pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer kills 91 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis. Advances in new therapies have been negligible, and chemotherapies only extend survival by a few months. 

A new tool is urgently needed to find a better approach, and Bruno Doiron, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine, believes he has found one that provides a truer picture of the disease and how it affects humans.

For years, scientists have studied pancreatic cancer by genetically engineering mice to develop the disease or by transplanting tumors into them to test drug activity. The resulting tumors provide an artificial picture of the human disease, Dr. Doiron said.

So he and his lab team have found a way to inject a modified virus into healthy adult mouse pancreases. The virus serves as a vehicle for two pro-cancer molecules, present in human pancreatic tumors, to be delivered into the organ. Once injected, the virus permeates the pancreas, yet it doesn’t affect any areas outside of the organ. When the mice reach 28 to 30 weeks of age, tumors develop that resemble human pancreatic cancer.

“This bypasses the artificial manipulation introduced by other methods, and spontaneous cancers develop that mimic those found in people,” Dr. Doiron said.

The lab team uses mice of different breeding and from different parents to ensure the development of the cancer is random, similar to how the disease behaves in humans.

The invention, which has a U.S. patent pending, is significant because “it demonstrates that all previous methods of study are obsolete,” Dr. Doiron said.

This more accurate picture of the human disease could also revolutionize studies of pancreatic cancer initiation and progression, and spur new drug development, said Ruben A. Mesa, M.D., FACP, director of the Mays Cancer Center, the newly named home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“This important work by Dr. Doiron and colleagues will allow us to better predict which treatments for the devastating disease of pancreatic cancer will be effective,” he said. “These discoveries are a much-needed advance on efforts to cure pancreatic cancer.”

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