A genetic analysis led by University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center researchers suggests that most pancreatic cancers harbor genetic alterations that could be targeted by existing drugs, using their genetic features as a roadmap for treatment. The findings support a precision approach to treating pancreatic cancer, the fourth deadliest cancer for both men and women. A comprehensive DNA sequencing of pancreatic cancer cases revealed, not only a plethora of damaged genes, but potential diagnostic biomarkers that could help identify those with longer or shorter survival times, and also provide opportunity for new therapeutic interventions. The new findings were published online on April 9, 2015 in an open-access article in Nature Communications. "We identified a wealth of genetic diversity, including multiple mutated genes that were previously unknown to pancreatic cancer--an important step in gaining a better understanding of this difficult and particularly deadly disease," said lead author Dr. Agnieszka Witkiewicz, Associate Professor of Pathology and a member of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern. "Importantly, the team was able to identify several genes that may be able to help us to predict outcomes in certain circumstances or serve as good candidates for therapeutic efforts." Researchers have long hoped that genetic analysis would provide insight into the biology of pancreatic cancer and define new targets for more effective treatment. Achieving this goal has been hampered by the technical difficulty of isolating pure cancer cells out of the tumor tissue that contains both tumor cells as well as normal cells. The new study overcame this limitation by selectively dissecting cancer cells from pieces of tumor tissue.
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