Western Australians recruited into an international study on pancreatic cancer may have helped researchers move closer to relegating the disease from its position as the fourth leading cause of cancer death.
Pancreatic cancer is not the most common cancer but it has a dismal prognosis, with less than one in 20 of those diagnosed remaining alive after five years. However, new clues emerging from work done by an Australian team, including researchers at The University of Western Australia as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, has revealed new clues about the way some pancreatic cancers spread.
The study, "Pancreatic Cancer Genomes Reveal Aberrations in Axon Guidance Pathway Genes", published in the journal Nature, presents the findings of the collective efforts of a research network consisting of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative (APGI), the Baylor College of Medicine Cancer Genome Project and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research Pancreatic Cancer Genome Study.
The large-scale collaboration identified several thousand genes that were abnormal in the pancreatic cancers. Whilst many of these were already known - and confirmed their importance - this study revealed two completely new areas where mutations had not been suspected before. These were in Chromatin remodelling, (modification of DNA and proteins in the nucleus of a cell) and in axon guidance (the process by which neurons send out nerve fibres).
Lead authors Professors Sean Grimmond (QLD Centre for Medical Genomics) and Andrew Biankin (Garvan Institute Sydney) used rapid advances in genomic sequencing to reveal these new clues.
Patients in Western Australia contributed to the project through the WA branch of the APGI, coordinated by UWA researcher Adjunct Associate Professor Nik Zeps. Together with his colleagues at Fremantle Hospital - surgeon Dr Krishna Epari and pathologist Dr Cindy Forrest - and the local biobank coordinator Mrs Maria Beilin at St John of God Healthcare, 49 patients have been recruited into this project since 2009.
"Identification of these pathways may lead to new drug discovery programs we can use to inhibit the spread of pancreatic cancers," Dr Zeps said.