A new study from Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm shows how two types of cell changes interact in the development of cancer. The results can improve the chances of early discovery of cancer - including pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease.

Cancer of the pancreas has few treatment options and the prognosis is seldom in favor of survival. One of the reasons for the poor prognosis associated with pancreatic cancer is that the disease is hard to detect at an early stage. The researchers believe that their results can be of significance toward developing better diagnostic methods and treatment strategies.

Pancreatic cancer is linked to two cellular changes: mutations in a family of cancer genes called RAS and increased activity in the 'Hedgehog' signaling pathway, a molecular signal transmission mechanism that is normally only activated during embryonic growth.

The new study, published in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, shows how RAS and the Hedgehog pathway interact in the development of pancreatic cancer in mice. Activation of cancer genes in the RAS family causes the tumor cells to secrete the factor (SHH) that activates Hedgehog signaling, thereafter shutting off the tumor cell's own ability to respond to this type of stimulation.

The blocking of the Hedgehog response in this phase assures survival of tumor cells while the surrounding cells are stimulated to grow. In a later phase, when the tumor has become more aggressive, the block is lifted so that tumor cell growth is also precipitated though Hedgehog signaling. The scientists have also identified the proteins that govern the tumor cells' sensitivity to SHH.

Source: www.ki.se