Newswise — SAN DIEGO (April 28, 2014) – Cancer of the pancreas, with a 5% survival rate within five years of diagnosis, is the fourth leading cause of cancer related deaths. The main reason behind such high morbidity is poor early detection capabilities as well as inability of currently employed drugs to alleviate cancer progression. Efforts aimed at finding better drug regimens would therefore greatly benefit from a mouse model with an intrinsic marker that can indicate different stages of pancreatic tumor formation leading to cancer and reflect the effects exerted by novel drug candidates.

The research group of Associate Professor Dr. Thomas M. Wilkie at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas has been characterizing the expression of a gene called Rgs16, short for Regulator of G-protein Signaling 16, in mouse pancreas for some time. His group previously showed its embryonic activation in pancreatic stem cells. Recently, teaming up with co-investigator Associate Professor Dr. Rolf A. Brekken, they looked into its possible involvement in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDA), the most common form of pancreatic cancer, in a mouse model with an early onset aggressive form of tumor development. Using a fluorescent protein to detect Rgs16 expression, the investigators found that this gene is induced by pancreatic tumor formation starting from its earliest manifestation as ductal neoplasm all the way to advanced solid tumor in a spatially and temporally coincidental manner. Exploiting the clarity and intensity of fluorescence, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ozhan Ocal in Dr. Wilkie’s group was able to represent images of pancreatic Rgs16 expression, and hence all the stages of pancreatic tumor development, quantitatively. This helped them not only lay out the progression of the disease explicitly, but also opened up a new avenue: testing drug effects on tumor growth.

Currently, chemotherapeutic intervention of pancreatic cancer is still ineffective to extend life span beyond several months. Consequently, many research groups are in hot pursuit of finding new drug targets and designing novel ones against the disease. Utilization of PDA marker Rgs16 is an exciting opportunity as it introduces a low cost and simple test environment to follow and compare the effects of different drugs with various mechanisms of action. Consequently, the use of such a marker suggests a new strategy to screen novel therapeutics in a rapid and efficient manner directly in the tumorigenic mouse.

Currently, Dr. Ocal is trying to find the best combination of available drugs that generates the largest reduction in tumor growth early on. In addition to discovering new therapeutics combinations, principal investigator Dr. Wilkie also hopes to gain insight from additional mouse models about what specific pancreatic signaling pathway Rgs16 might be acting on.

Dr. Ocal will present the findings during the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting on Monday, April28 from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at the Cancer Biology and Novel Targets poster session in Exhibit Halls A-D (Poster #B218) of the San Diego Convention Center. The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute for General Medical Sciences, and a University of Texas Southwestern Cancer Center Pilot Project Award. ###

About Experimental Biology 2014Experimental Biology is an annual meeting comprised of more than 14,000 scientists and exhibitors from six sponsoring societies and multiple guest societies. With a mission to share the newest scientific concepts and research findings shaping clinical advances, the meeting offers an unparalleled opportunity for exchange among scientists from across the United States and the world who represent dozens of scientific areas, from laboratory to translational to clinical research.

About the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET)ASPET is a 5,100 member scientific society whose members conduct basic and clinical pharmacological research within the academic, industrial and government sectors. Our members discover and develop new medicines and therapeutic agents that fight existing and emerging diseases, as well as increase our knowledge regarding how therapeutics affects humans. ###