The well-known biochemist Mariano Barbacid has called this morning to the media to announce that his team "has been able to eliminate for the first time" in mice the most common pancreatic cancers. They are the most lethal tumors that hit humans: only 5% of patients survive five years after the diagnosis. "I'm very worried about giving false hope. I want to make it very clear that it will not be useful for people who currently have pancreatic cancer, "he said at a massive press conference in Madrid. "What it does is open new doors," he underlined.
In more than 95% of cases, the initiating mutation of pancreatic human tumors appears in KRAS, a gene that under normal conditions would precisely prevent cell proliferation. Since his discovery in 1982, the scientific community has published about 36,000 research on the gene KRAS and its relation to cancer, but there is still no drug to inhibit its activity when it goes wild. "Either we are incompetent or it is complicated", joked Barbacid, of the National Center for Oncological Research (CNIO), in Madrid.
"I want to make it very clear that it will not work for people who currently have pancreatic cancer," Mariano Barbacid warned.
The strategy of the biochemist has been to create 12 mice genetically modified to present these same mutations in KRAS and another habitual in another gene, the TP53. Next, he has modified the genes of the rodents again to achieve the inhibition of a molecule resulting from the mutation in the gene KRAS -Called c-Raf- and blocking another of the usual suspects in cancer: the epidermal growth factor receptor. This very complex genetic modification, unthinkable in humans, has succeeded in inducing cancer and then eliminating it in six of the treated mice.
"Until now, the disappearance (complete regression) of advanced pancreatic cancer in any experimental model has never been observed," the CNIO assured. it's a statement. The investigation, published in the magazine Cancer Cell, further shows that this experimental approach also served to block the growth of nine of the ten human pancreas tumors implanted and cultured in other immunosuppressed mice.
"The study opens a research path to improve the prognosis of patients with pancreatic cancer, but it is far from being able to be applied in patients", warns the doctor Enrique de Madaria, vice president of the Spanish Association of Pancreatology. "Currently, there are no drugs that selectively block c-RAF without undesirable effects at other levels", underlines the expert, who has not participated in the new work. "This study calls for research into new drugs that offer hope to patients with pancreatic cancer," says De Madaria, a specialist at the University Hospital of Alicante.
The authors have urged to launch a National Cancer Research Strategy
In the press conference of Barbacid they have also appeared Marta Puyol, director of research of the Spanish Association Against Cancer, and Alfredo Carrato, head of the Oncology Service of the Ramón y Cajal Hospital in Madrid. Puyol has urged the political parties to launch as soon as possible a National Strategy for Cancer Research, with the aim of doubling the investment and reaching a 70% overall survival in Spain by the year 2030. Currently, 53% of the patients are still alive five years after diagnosis, a sufficient time to consider healing in many tumors. Success varies from 85% in breast cancer to 5% in pancreatic tumors.
The immense challenge now is to "get in the patients what Mariano [Barbacid] get in your mice, "acknowledged Carrato. The oncologist has detailed the magnitude of the enemy. People with pancreatic cancer have very non-specific symptoms, such as nausea, weight loss and abdominal or lumbar pain. "It is very common for the patient to have a year-round back pain and not be diagnosed with cancer until it turns yellow," said Carrato. "It's a reality that we are late for the diagnosis."
When the tumor is detected, it is usually too late: surgery is no longer feasible and treatments with chemotherapy and radiotherapy are ineffective. "We are facing a health emergency of the first order", warned Carrato. In Spain there are about 4,000 cases per year, according to data from the Spanish Association Against Cancer.
"It is worth highlighting any work that provides potential new treatments to this tumor," applauded the doctor Teresa Macarulla, of the University Hospital Vall d'Hebron, in Barcelona. In his opinion, the new work is "hopeful", but "we must be careful with the results, given that the authors report data from a few models". So far, the new strategy has only been successful with six mice.