Collaborating scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and other institutions have discovered a sign of the early development of pancreatic cancer – an upsurge in certain amino acids that occurs before the disease is diagnosed and symptoms appear. The research is being published online on September 28, 2014 in Nature Medicine. Although the increase isn't large enough to be the basis of a new test for early detection of the disease, the findings will help researchers better understand how pancreatic cancer affects the rest of the body, particularly how it can trigger the sometimes deadly muscle-wasting disease known as cachexia. "Most people with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) (by far the most common form of cancreatic cancer) are diagnosed after the disease has reached an advanced stage, and many die within a year of diagnosis," said Brian Wolpin, M.D., M.P.H., of Dana-Farber, co-senior author of the new study with Matthew Vander Heiden, M.D., Ph.D., of MIT and Dana-Farber. "Detecting the disease earlier in its development may improve our ability to treat it successfully. In this study, we asked whether PDAC produces metabolic changes – changes in the way the body uses energy and nutrients – that can be detected before the disease is diagnosed." The researchers utilized blood samples collected years earlier from 1,500 people participating in large health-tracking studies. The scientists analyzed the samples for more than 100 different metabolites – substances produced by the metabolic process – and compared the results from participants who had gone on to develop pancreatic cancer and those who had not.
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