Scientists Identify Possible Link Between Pancreatic Cancer and Muscle Wasting Condition Cachexia

According to a publication from EurekAlert, researchers from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine (OUCM) recently published a study in the journal Gastroenterology suggesting how cachexia is triggered in pancreatic cancer patients.

Because cachexia is responsible for a significant number of cancer deaths, reliable methods of predicting its occurrence could one day lead to treatments that significantly reduce the mortality risk posed by certain cancers.

About Cachexia and Pancreatic Cancer

Cachexia, a condition causing extreme weight loss and muscle wasting, is a symptom of many chronic conditions like cancer, chronic kidney failure, and HIV. Some estimates suggest that cachexia is responsible for up to a third of all cancer deaths.

For some time, cachexia has been known to be particularly common in pancreatic cancer patients. At least 80% of pancreatic cancer patients are believed to develop the condition to some extent. However, despite its frequency among cancer patients (especially those with pancreatic cancer), little is known about cachexia and why it occurs.

Although pancreatic cancer is rare, its lethality is daunting. Cancers of the pancreas account for only 3% of cancer cases in the United States, but 7% of cancer deaths. 93% people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within five years of being diagnosed.

Cachexia poses a serious obstacle to physicians treating pancreatic cancer. Patients affected may be too weak to withstand surgery or chemotherapy without life-threatening repercussions.

Protein Linked to Cachexia

To address the significant mortality concerns of pancreatic cancer, scientists with the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine set out to identify the origins of cachexia. The team targeted their study on a single protein, ZIP4, known to be found in excessive amounts in pancreatic cancer patients.

ZIP4, a zinc transport protein, plays an important role in maintaining cell homeostasis. However, the OUCM study made a startling observation about the transport molecule. In pancreatic cancer patients, ZIP4 was found to be at the center of a reaction between pancreatic cancer and muscle cells. The presence of ZIP4 caused the cancer cells to produce two molecules that trigger cachexia when they reach muscle tissue.

If the finding wasn’t surprising enough, scientists believe ZIP4 might also initiate the opening of a unique metabolic pathway that channels to ZIP4 molecules to muscle tissues. It’s like “hailing a cab for” cachexia-causing molecules.

OUCM researchers that led the study believe if they can find a way to lower ZIP4 levels, or inhibit its expression, they could improve the survivability of cachexia and pancreatic cancer by extension. Patients who would otherwise be too weak to undergo surgery or radiation therapy may benefit if their cachexia is identified and treated as early as possible. If ZIP4 manipulation works, it could lead to a significant reduction in mortality rates for one of the most aggressive forms of cancer facing patients and physicians today.

What do you think of this startling development? Do you think it’s important to treat non-cancer related complications linked to these diseases? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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