Watching pancreatic cancer spread


Researchers discover the cells remodel their environment.


A pancreatic tumour comprises cancer cells (green) interwoven with blood vessels (red) and matrix fibres (purple). The cancer cells spread along the fibres (purple) within the body.

Max Nobis

An international team led by Australia’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research has discovered how aggressive pancreatic cancer cells spread (known as metastasis) and survive.

In a mouse model, they found that some pancreatic tumours produce more of a molecule called perlecan to remodel their environment – essentially re-educating cells around them.

This helps cancer cells spread more easily, and also protects them against chemotherapy.

The researchers showed that lowering the levels of perlecan revealed a reduction in the spread of pancreatic cancer and improved response to chemotherapy.

“Pancreatic cancer is very aggressive, and by the time most cases are diagnosed, the tumour is often inoperable,” says research leader Paul Timpson.

“What we’ve discovered in this study is a two-pronged approach for treating pancreatic cancer that we believe will improve the efficiency of chemotherapy and may help reduce tumour progression and spread.”

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/perlecan
  2. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-10968-6
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