The Future of Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

By Diane M. Simeone, MD, Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery and Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan Medical School, and President of the American Pancreatic Association

Posted on | By Diane M. Simeone, MD | Comments ()

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly diseases. It’s difficult to diagnose, so it’s often not found till it’s quite advanced. It also spreads quickly, and is notoriously resistant to many of the chemotherapy and radiation treatments we currently use. Only about 3 percent of people with pancreatic cancer live more than 5 years after diagnosis. Despite the relatively small number of people who are diagnosed, it’s still the fourth most common cancer killer.

Why is it so challenging to treat? We don’t completely understand the molecular basis of pancreatic cancer, but research within my laboratory at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center is focused on trying to understand this terrible disease.

In 2007, my team was the first to identify a small group of cells, called cancer stem cells, in tumors from patients with pancreatic cancer. We believe these stem cells are the key to finding an effective treatment and possibly someday a cure for pancreatic cancer.

Cancer stem cells are the small number of cancer cells that replicate to drive tumor growth. Researchers at the University of Michigan and elsewhere believe current cancer treatments sometimes fail because they are not attacking the cancer stem cells. Research in our laboratory has shown that pancreatic cancer stem cells are especially resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. By identifying the cancer stem cells, we can then develop new drugs to target and kill these cells.

This is particularly crucial for pancreatic cancer, where we have not had a significant improvement in the long-term survival rates over the last 1 to 2 decades. I believe that if we can target cancer stem cells within pancreatic cancer, we may have an avenue to really make a breakthrough in therapy for this awful disease.

Article written by Diane M. Simeone, MD
Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery and Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan Medical School, and...