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Novel Treatment for Pancreatic Cancer Under Study
Date:3/24/2011

THURSDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers appear to have found a new way to significantly shrink pancreatic tumors by targeting the tissue surrounding cancer rather than the cancer itself.

The approach relies on an experimental antibody that sparks the patient's own immune system into shredding the structural "scaffolding" that holds tumors together.

Although testing has so far been confined to laboratory mice and a small group of patients who have since relapsed, preliminary results caught the researchers by surprise.

"Until this research, we thought the immune system needed to attack the cancer directly in order to be effective," senior author Dr. Robert H. Vonderheide, an associate professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology at the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center, noted in a university news release.

"Now we know that isn't necessarily so," he said. "Attacking the dense tissues surrounding the cancer is another approach, similar to attacking a brick wall by dissolving the mortar in the wall. Ultimately, the immune system was able to eat away at this tissue surrounding the cancer, and the tumors fell apart as a result of that assault. These results provide fresh insight to build new immune therapies for cancer."

The findings are in the March 25 issue of Science.

The current finding comes on the heels of another promising report issued earlier this year by a French-American team of researchers (led by Dr. James Yao of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center), which indicated that two growth-factor inhibiting drugs (everolimus and sunitinib) more than doubled survival among patients diagnosed with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.

The experimental antibody at the heart of the Penn team's investigation is manufactured by Pfizer, which along with the National Cancer Institute helped fund the research.

To gauge the antibodies' pote
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