New technology helps researchers study pancreatic cancer

Published: Jul. 16, 2018 at 4:53 PM EDT
Email this link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Pancreatic cancer kills 95 percent of the people diagnosed with it.

Chemotherapy helps but is only able to extend survival for a few months.

Now, researchers have a new tool allowing them to much more accurately study how the cancer develops.

It’s a tough role reversal for Inocencio Davila, a retired anesthesiologist. He is now a patient with pancreatic cancer, following a bout with renal cancer.

"Next thing you know, I started getting jaundice; that's when I started getting concerned," he explains. "She said, 'Well, you know what they say about painless jaundice,' and I said, 'I know, but I don’t really want to hear that.'"

Inocencio is now on an aggressive treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation to prolong his life.

“Chemotherapies are getting better to improve those numbers, but we have a long way to go,” says Sukeshi Arora, MD, a medical oncologist at UT Health San Antonio.

Enter researcher Bruno Doiron.

Doiron is working on a new technology that allows pancreatic tumors in mice to develop with the same traits as human pancreatic cancer.

“I use the mutation found in pancreatic cancer found in humans, so that mimics more randomly what’s happening in the cancer development,” he explains.

Doiron injects a modified virus into the mouse. That virus delivers two human cancer genetic mutations into the mouse pancreas. The human-like cancers that develop give researchers an effective way to test new drugs. It’s a finding that’s applauded by patients like Inocencio.

“Without that, how can we find a treatment for the cancer that we have?” he asks.

A U.S. patent is pending on the gene delivery technology developed by Doiron.

Obesity and diabetes are major risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Researchers say the new technology can be used to examine this link.




REPORT: MB #4444

BACKGROUND: Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of the pancreas, an organ in the abdomen that lies horizontally behind the lower part of the stomach. Pancreatic cancer typically spreads rapidly to nearby organs. It is seldom detected in its early stages. But for people with pancreatic cysts or a family history of pancreatic cancer, some screening steps might help detect a problem early. One sign of pancreatic cancer is diabetes, especially when it occurs with weight loss, jaundice or pain in the upper abdomen that spreads to the back. It's not clear what causes pancreatic cancer in most cases. Doctors have identified factors, such as smoking, that increase the risk of developing the disease.


TREATMENT: For most people, the first goal of pancreatic cancer treatment is to eliminate the cancer, when possible. When that isn't an option, the focus may be on improving quality of life and preventing the cancer from growing or causing more harm. Treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these. When pancreatic cancer is advanced and these treatments aren't likely to offer a benefit, doctors will offer symptom relief (palliative care) that makes patients as comfortable as possible. According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20 percent, and the five-year rate is seven percent. These low survival rates are attributable to the fact that fewer than 20 percent of patients’ tumors are confined to the pancreas at the time of diagnosis; in most cases, the malignancy has already progressed to the point where surgical removal is impossible.

(Source: &

NEW RESEARCH: Bruno Doiron, PhD, Biomedical Researcher, Department of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and his lab team are injecting a modified virus into the adult mouse pancreas. The virus is a delivery vehicle for two pro-cancer molecules (called KrasG12D mutation and shRNA p53) that are present in human pancreatic tumors. Upon injection, the virus permeates the pancreas with these pro-cancer factors. The effect is contained; only the pancreas is altered by this molecular cocktail. When the mice reach 28 to 30 weeks of age, tumors develop that resemble human pancreatic cancer. This is a way to test new drugs more accurately.


Latest News

Latest News