Moffitt develops genetic test for pancreatic cancer

For the nearly 50,000 people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year, there is hope on the horizon when it comes to treatment of this deadly disease. Moffitt Cancer researchers have developed a genetic test that can predict which pancreatic cancer patients will benefit from surgery.

"There is an unmet need to develop a reliable test, which will better predict prognosis for patients with early pancreatic cancer and thereby allow for personalized treatment,” says Dung-Tsa Chen, Ph.D. and senior member of the biostatistics and bioinformatics department at Moffitt.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most deadly cancer according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the high mortality rate is attributed to lack of effective diagnostic and prognostic tests.

“We found through our research that the patients who survive long-term may have a different genetic makeup, and so we looked at what we call the signatures of those genes, and compared them to those who didn’t do so well,” says Mokenge Malafa, M.D., F.A.C.S., department chair and program leader for Moffitt’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program. “Dr. Chen did his statistical magic and he was able to match from a pool of genes, which patients would do well and which would not.”

Malafa goes on to say that with this information, he as a surgeon, can do a genetic test early on before doing surgery and if the patient is not a good candidate for surgery, they can look at other treatment options.

The study, which was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health and the DeBartolo Family Personalized Medicine Institute Pilot Research Awards in Personalized Medicine, was published in the PLoS One journal.

Malafa says the next step and research project in the fight against pancreatic cancer is a blood test that would catch cancer early on.

“From very little tissue samples, we could really perfect the signature where we could tailor the patient’s treatment based on this signature,” he says.  “Another option would be to use the information we have on genes, and how they affect the behavior of the tumors, we may be able to find a specific drug and target or intervene early on. In the future, we will find ways to make the outcome for these patients not so dismal.”

Read more articles by Kimberly Patterson.

Kimberly Patterson is a news editor for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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