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Research points to a new treatment for pancreatic cancer

Researchers have shown how controlling cholesterol metabolism in pancreatic cancer cells reduces metastasis, pointing to a potential new treatment using drugs previously developed for atherosclerosis.

“We show for the first time that if you control the cholesterol metabolism you could reduce pancreatic cancer spread to other organs,” said Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry. “We chose pancreatic cancer to test this approach because it is the most aggressive disease of all the cancers.”

Cheng had previously led a team of researchers discovering a link between prostate cancer’s aggressiveness and the accumulation of a compound produced when cholesterol is metabolized in cells, findings that could bring new diagnostic and treatment methods. The new study involved researchers at the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and School of Biomedical Engineering, the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center and School of Medicine, Purdue’s Department of Biological Sciences, Department of Comparative Pathobiology, and Department of Biochemistry.

The findings, detailed in a paper published in the journal Oncogene, suggest a class of drugs previously developed to treat atherosclerosis could be repurposed for treatment of pancreatic cancer and other forms of cancer. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fats, cholesterol and other substances in arteries, restricting blood flow.

Image of pancreatic cancer cells
Researchers have shown how controlling cholesterol metabolism in pancreatic cancer cells reduces metastasis to other organs, pointing to a potential new treatment. Findings showed a higher number of metastatic lesions in organs of untreated and treated mice, shown at top and bottom, respectively
Image Credit: Junjie Li, Purdue University