New antibodies may lead to early detection of pancreatic cancer

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Washington, May 23 : In a novel discovery, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University have developed new reagents, or antibodies, that can detect pancreatic cancer in the early stages.

The discovery led by Philip Streeter, Ph.D., at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) Oregon Stem Cell Center and the OHSU Digestive Health Center, may also lead to earlier detection and treatment of this often lethal disease.

The new antibodies recognize a small number of normal pancreas cells, specifically cells involved in the transport of enzymes out of the pancreas, but recognize many more cells in pancreatic cancer tissue. In addition to recognizing pancreatic cancer, these antibodies recognize gastrointestinal cancers.

"The next step is to use these antibodies in a sensitive screening test to determine their full potential in diagnosis of this devastating disease," said Brett Sheppard, M.D., study co-investigator and pancreatic cancer surgeon in the OHSU Digestive Health Center.

Currently, only 15 percent of pancreatic cancer cases are detected earlier as its symptoms usually appear in advanced stages and at that point even surgery fails to help the patients. Also, pancreatic cancer is not common enough to justify routine screening in the general population, and there are no screening blood tests or radiologic procedures sensitive enough to detect it early on

In order to devise an earlier means of detection and save more lives, the researchers generated and characterized antibodies, which were developed following the injection of normal pancreas cells into mice.

Next, they took the spleen cells of the mice and fused them with a myeloma cell line, which yields cells that can be grown for long periods of time in the laboratory. These cells secreted antibodies that the researchers were then able to screen for reaction with normal pancreatic and pancreatic cancer tissues.

"The primary goal of the antibody resource facility is to develop novel reagents which will positively impact research in the broad field of stem cell biology, including basic studies of stem cells, developmental biology, tissue regeneration and repair, and disease diagnosis and therapy. We hope that the new antibodies introduced in San Diego will allow early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer," said one of the researchers on the study.

Besides, the research with these new antibodies, the researchers have also established the Oregon Pancreas Tumor Registry, which is intended to keep patients at high risk for pancreatic cancer under surveillance, with the goal of early diagnosis.

The registry also acts as a biospecimen repository in which patients and families may provide blood, pancreatic ductal fluid and tissue samples. Researchers may then use the samples for pancreatic cancer research.

The findings of the study were presented during Digestive Disease Week in San Diego.

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