Navigation Links
Missing molecules hold promise of therapy for pancreatic cancer

By determining what goes missing in human cells when the gene that is most commonly mutated in pancreatic cancer gets turned on, Johns Hopkins scientists have discovered a potential strategy for therapy.

The production of a particular cluster of genetic snippets known as microRNAs is dramatically reduced in human pancreatic tumor cells compared to healthy tissue, the researchers report in a study published Dec. 15 in Genes and Development. When the team restored this tiny regulator, called miR-143/145, back to normal levels in human pancreatic cancer cells, those cells lost their ability to form tumors.

"Our finding that these specific microRNAs are downstream of the most important oncogene in pancreatic cancer sets the stage for developing methods to deliver them to tumors," says Josh Mendell, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and an early career scientist of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. "When we restore microRNAs to cancer cells in which their levels are repressed, the cells no longer are tumorigenic. We have every reason to believe that the efficient delivery of miR-143/145, if achievable, would be therapeutically beneficial."

The team focused its investigation on KRAS, a member of the important RAS family of oncogenes that is mutated in almost all cases of the most common form of pancreatic cancer.

The researchers conducted their studies in a multitude of model systems human cells growing in culture as well as those harvested directly from tumors, and also in mice and zebrafish. First, using cell lines derived from pancreatic tumors and growing in culture, they added gene products such as mutant KRAS and an inhibitor of mutant KRAS, and then measured the microRNA responses. Next, they conducted the same experiments using cells from patients' pancreatic tumors. Finally, they looked at pancreatic tissue from mice and zebrafish to see what happened when KRAS was activated.

Every time, the team noted the same robust findings. When KRAS was activated, the microRNA cluster miR-143/145 was powerfully repressed, to a fraction of the levels in normal, non-cancerous cells. Restoring the expression of miR-143/145 back to the level of normal cells was sufficient to confer "a very striking change in behavior of those cells," Mendell says. When human pancreatic cancer cells with low microRNA levels were injected into mice, they formed tumors within 30 days. However, when the team restored the levels of microRNAs to the levels of normal cells and injected them into mice, tumors failed to form.

"Our findings showed that repression of the miR-143/145 microRNA cluster is a very important component of the tumor-promoting cellular program that is activated when KRAS is mutated in cancer cells," says Oliver Kent, a postdoctoral fellow in the Mendell laboratory and first author on the paper.

At some point in the process of a normal cell evolving into a tumor cell, it loses microRNAs. When the KRAS gene is mutated a common event in pancreatic cancer it somehow purges cells of miR-143/145, the cluster of microRNAs that normally put the brakes on tumorigenesis.

"It is likely that some microRNAs will have very broad antitumorigenic effects in many different types of cancers," says Mendell, whose lab is building animal models to investigate how different microRNAs participate in different tumor types. "In fact, there is already evidence that miR-143/145 can suppress other types of tumors such as colon and prostate cancer. On the other hand, the effects of some microRNAs will likely be very tumor-specific."

Merely 22 nucleotides in length, microRNAs are enigmatic bits of genetic material that, despite being pint-sized, apparently are mighty. This field of study is less than a decade old; scientists still don't have a good grasp on the fundamental role of microRNAs in normal biology.

"We need a better understanding of their basic functions to more fully understand how microRNAs participate in diseases," Mendell says.

Having studied microRNAs in the context of several types of cancer, Mendell says delivery remains a major issue for nucleic acid-based therapies.

"There is a lot of work going on to develop ways to deliver microRNAs to different tissue sites," Mendell says. "I'm optimistic that the liver and even the pancreas will become accessible to these types of therapies and benefit from them."


Contact: Maryalice Yakutchik
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

Related biology news :

1. Missing: 2,000 elephants
2. Missing genes link to psoriasis
3. Missing piece of plant clock found
4. A missing enzyme conveys major heart protection in pre-clinical work
5. Fossil evidence of missing link in the origin of seals, sea lions, walruses found in Canadian Arctic
6. Yeast missing sex genes undergo unexpected sexual reproduction
7. New therapy substitutes missing protein in those with muscular dystrophy
8. Researchers restore missing protein in rare genetic brain disorder
9. Plants on steroids: Key missing link discovered
10. Cells can read damaged DNA without missing a beat
11. High-performance computing reveals missing genes
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/11/2015)... , Nov. 11, 2015   MedNet Solutions , ... spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to announce that it ... Clinical Trials (PCT) event, to be held November 17-19 ... able to view live demonstrations of iMedNet ... learn how iMedNet has been able to deliver ...
(Date:11/4/2015)... ALBANY, New York , November 4, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... According to a new market report published by Transparency ... Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2015 - 2022", ... value of US$ 30.3 bn by 2022. The market ... during the forecast period from 2015 to 2022. Rising ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 2015  Rubicon Genomics, Inc., today announced an ... its DNA library preparation products, including the ThruPLEX ... Plasma-seq kit. ThruPLEX Plasma-seq has been optimized for ... libraries for liquid biopsies--the analysis of cell-free circulating ... in cancer and other conditions. Eurofins Scientific is ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/26/2015)... , England , November 26, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... Medical, an innovative medical device company specializing in imaging technologies, ... from the European Commission as part of the Horizon 2020 ... company to carry out a large-scale clinical trial in breast ...      (Logo: , --> ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... , November 25, 2015 2 ... première fois les différences entre les souches bactériennes ... celles des êtres humains . Ces recherches ... et envisager la prise en charge efficace de ... diagnostiqués chez les chats .    --> ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... DIEGO , Nov. 25, 2015  Neurocrine Biosciences, ... Kevin Gorman , President and CEO of Neurocrine Biosciences, ... Healthcare Conference in New York . ... to visit the website approximately 5 minutes prior to ... A replay of the presentation will be available on ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... DIEGO , Nov. 25, 2015 Orexigen® ... management will participate in a fireside chat discussion at ... New York . The discussion is scheduled ... .  A replay will be ... Media Contact:McDavid Stilwell  , Julie NormartVP, Corporate Communications ...
Breaking Biology Technology: