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Scientists Spot Clue to Cancer's Aggressiveness

They hope molecular signature shows when disease will respond to cancer drug

TUESDAY, Sept. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they have gained insight into whether certain aggressive cancers -- including those that attack the pancreas, breast and skin -- will respond to a certain anti-cancer drug.

The key appears to lie in a molecular signature inside tumors, researchers reported in the Sept. 6 online issue of Nature Medicine.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that a receptor on the surface of some tumor cells can start a process that leads cells to become more aggressive. An anti-cancer drug called dasatinib (Sprycel), approved for treating a form of leukemia, blocks the process.

Researchers say figuring out whether the receptor exists on tumor cells could indicate whether the tumors might respond to the drug.

"These results could enable us to identify the subpopulation of cancer patients who are likely to respond to treatment with dasatinib," study author David Cheresh, vice chair of pathology at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, said in a news release. "Rather than treat all patients with a given tumor type the same way, we can customize the treatment in such a way that we impact the patients most likely to be sensitive to a drug."

In pancreatic cancer, for example, about 60 percent of tumors appear to have the receptor, meaning they would be susceptible to the drug.

The next step is to design a clinical trial to test the theory.

More information

Learn more about cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

--Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, Sept. 3, 2009

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