It appears that the treatment of pancreatic cancer using one medicine in order to make the cancer cells dependent on one source of energy, then using another one to take that source away, sounds like a great option.
This approach seems more promising after the latest study tested it on the pancreatic cancer cells derived from mice in a lab setting. The investigators who carried out this study are hopeful that their study will open new doors for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, a disease that normally has a poor prognosis.
The findings of this study are published in the journal called Nature Medicine.
Pancreatic Cancer and the Role of Autophagy
The pancreas refers to a big, flat organ that is present deep inside the abdomen just behind the stomach. It produces hormones and enzymes that control blood sugar and helps in digestion of food.
Cancer of the pancreas is extremely difficult to get detected in the early stages. This is because the organ is placed deep inside the body and it becomes difficult to spot lumps and tumors in routine examinations. By the time you develop symptoms, the disease has already spread making it more difficult to treat.
The new study emphasizes on autophagy, a process that means “self-eating.” It is a way in which the cell recycles all its materials and release energy as a consequence.
The researchers have come up with a strategy to make the cancer cells dependent on autophagy as their main source of fuel and then block it later on.
They used one type of compound to stop the cancerous cells from being able to use other energy sources. This made them rely on autophagy alone. This was followed by blocking autophagy in these cells as well.
Enhanced Strength of Autophagy Inhibitors
The strategy created and discussed in this study can increase the strength of autophagy inhibitors a potential treatment for pancreatic cancer. Previous research had revealed how mutations in the KRAS gene is the key driver of pancreatic cancer. However, the researchers who tried discovering treatments by targeting this enzyme were not found to be successful.
At the same time, several other studies have revealed how autophagy is increased in cancer cells of the pancreas occurring due to mutations in the KRAS gene. However, attempts to blocking autophagy with the help of an inhibitor called hydroxychloroquine was found to be unsuccessful.
The researchers have suggested that the reason why the effects of hydroxychloroquine failed to stop cancer was that the cancer cells changed their main source of energy.
Cancer cells usually have a lot of options to take energy from. The scientists know about at least four to five of these options at present.
The researchers belonging to this study also tested some ideas on the pancreatic cells derived from mice and humans. They found that if they silence KRAS, the pancreatic cells became more dependent on autophagy. At the same time, this also limited their ability to utilize other sources of energy.
The team then found that combining the effects of an agent that blocks KRAS together with an autophagy inhibitor such as hydroxychloroquine can work better.