Research Reveals a New Potential Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer

According to a story from Medical Xpress, a team of researchers affiliated with the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center found some encouraging results when they tested an immune system enhancing cancer vaccine called PancVAX in combination with two different checkpoint type drugs. The combination was used to treat mice with pancreatic cancer. The treatment was able to eliminate the pancreatic tumors in the mice, demonstrating a possible alternative approach for patients that fail to respond to more conventional immunotherapy.

About Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most dangerous forms of cancer. The disease affects the pancreas, which is a glandular organ that is situated behind the stomach. Part of the reason that pancreatic cancer is so dangerous is that it rarely produces noticeable symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage and begun to spread. However, even when detected earlier, it is difficult to treat effectively. Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include being male, old age, African-American ancestry, family history, smoking, obesity, diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, and a diet heavy in red meat, processed meat, or meat cooked at very high temperatures. Symptoms include depression, upper abdominal pain, jaundice, diabetes, constipation, weight loss, and appetite loss. Treatment approaches for this cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Even with heavy treatment, pancreatic cancer almost always returns. The five year survival rate is just five percent. To learn more about pancreatic cancer, click here.

Research Findings

The scientists found that the pancreatic cancer tumors were more likely to respond to the therapy because the combination of drugs increased the number of T cells in the tumors, which previously had very few T cells. These cells play a vital role because they can destroy cancer cells once they are able to recognize them. Pancreatic cancer is one of a number of cancer types that often have very few T cells. As a result, researchers have found that combination immunotherapy treatments seem to work better than just using one type.

Getting T cells to be effective means allowing them to infiltrate the microenvironment of the tumor. The scientists theorize that the PancVAX vaccine alongside checkpoint modulator drugs are effective because they allow this process to occur.

In the mice that saw their tumors disappear, there was no evidence of tumor cells reappearing. This suggests that the mouse’s T cells had retained the ability to target tumor cells and destroy them. 

Check out the original study here.

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