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Gene Discovered by Researchers Tied to Pancreatic Cancer

A gene discovered by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has been associated with two forms of pancreatic cancer//, according to a study by an international group of researchers.

The gene, called palladin, was discovered six years ago by Dr. Carol Otey and her former student, Dr. Mana Parast, now a pathology fellow with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Otey has shown that palladin is involved in the formation of scar tissue on nerve cells in the brain or spinal cord, and it’s found in cells that are moving, including embryonic cells and cells at the edge of wounds.

“Now we find it implicated in pancreatic cancer,” said Otey, an associate professor of cell and molecular physiology at UNC and a member of the UNC Neuroscience Center.

A study reported in the Dec. 12 issue of PLOS-Medicine, led by scientists at the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh, found pallidan overexpressed in people with sporadic, or non-familial, pancreatic cancer. A mutation of the gene was overexpressed in cells of people with familial pancreatic cancer, which makes up at least 10 percent of all pancreatic cancer cases. Otey is a co-author on the paper.

This discovery could lead to earlier diagnosis and more targeted treatments. In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and the third leading cause of cancer death among people 40 to 59 years. Most people with the disease die within a year of diagnosis; about 95 percent of patients die within five years.

Palladin, which Otey named for 16th century architect Andrea Palladio, “is very involved in the architecture of cells, specifically via the actin cytoskeleton, a polymer protein complex that provides much of the basis for cell shape,” Otey said.

In 1996 Dr. Teresa A. Brentnall, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington, became aware of
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