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Stem Cells Being Tested to Fight Pancreatic Cancer

It may be possible to stop tumor growth without harmful therapies, study suggests

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- New research is moving scientists closer to their goal of treating pancreatic cancer by killing tumors without hurting healthy tissue.

The researchers, who were scheduled to report their findings at the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress, Oct. 11-15 in Chicago, have created a bioengineered "construct" that uses stem cells derived from bone marrow and a genetic product that stops tumor growth.

Pancreatic cancer requires stem cells in order to grow. The "Trojan horse" created by the researchers essentially confuses cancer cells and makes them produce a toxic product.

The findings could in time lead to better treatments for pancreatic cancer, which is often fatal. According to the National Cancer Institute, 43,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year, and 35,000 people die.

"The prognosis of advanced pancreatic cancer is so devastating that even a small effect on prolongation and quality of life would be a tremendous outcome for the patient," study author Dr. Claudius Conrad of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said in a news release from the American College of Surgeons.

One currently available treatment is chemotherapy, but it can make healthy cells become sick and can cause a variety of side effects, including bowel damage, diarrhea and nausea.

"We developed our concept of using stem cells to target tumor cells because the homing drive of aggressive tumors like pancreatic cancer is so strong that genetically engineered stem cells can help destroy the tumor," Conrad explained. "Also, the unique signals in the tumor microenvironment can help make the therapy cancer-specific once the modified stem cells have been homed."

To date, the research is still in preliminary stages and has been tested only in animals.

More information

Learn more about pancreatic cancer from the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: American College of Surgeons, news release, Oct. 14, 2009

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