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Old drug, new tricks

A pancreatic cancer treatment which failed previous clinical trials is being resurrected as a personalised type of medication for one in five patients who suffer from the disease.

Rapamycin was originally developed as a drug which suppresses the immune system, but when it was given to mice in clinical trials this year, it stopped pancreatic cancer which occurs due to a certain gene from growing.

In a breakthrough discovery, a team of scientists from the Cancer Research UK Beaston Institute at the University of Glasgow.

“This is a crucial step in developing new treatments for this devastating disease.” said Doctor Jennifer Morton, the study’s lead researcher.

Previous older studies failed to prove the effectiveness of rapamycin in treating pancreatic cancers when given to patients which varying forms and stages of the disease. However, in the latest study the Glasgow research team found that pancreatic cancer caused by a PTEN-gene defect is responsive to the drug rapamycin.

On treating mice with genetically modified PTEN pancreatic tumours, rapamycin helped stop the spread of cancer cells and also worked in shrinking the tumour.

Upon analysing a sample of human pancreatic tumours, taken from a wide range of real-life patients, the researchers noted that one in five pancreatic cancer patients had the faulty gene which rapamycin aids recovery with. Therefore, a substantial amount of patients currently suffering from the cancer could benefit from rapamycin being used as a type of treatment for the disease.

Doctor Jennifer Morton adds, “This is incredibly important research showing for the first time that there is potential to tailor treatment to pancreatic cancer patients based on differences in their tumour’s own individual genetic fingerprint. Although it is at a very early stage, it’s the first time we’ve been able to pinpoint a genetic fault in pancreatic cancers and match it up with a specific drug. While more research is needed to see if this approach could benefit patients, it’s a crucial step forward in developing new treatments for this devastating disease which has seen no survival improvements since the 1970s.”

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