Discovering pancreatic cancer earlier

Collaborative studies at University of Missouri show promise

Sep 23, 2020
Jennifer Clifford
COLUMBIA, Mo.—Earlier this year, the University of Missouri (MU) announced initial results of a collaboration that may help diagnose pancreatic cancer in its earlier, treatable phases. The article, titled “RNA cargos in extracellular vesicles derived from blood serum in pancreas associated conditions,” was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
 
This interdisciplinary collaboration involving the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and MU School of Medicine helps advance precision medicine, one of the core principles of the NextGen Precision Health Initiative.
 
“If we can identify the potential for disease development as early as possible, preventative measures can be taken by the patient, which will ultimately lead to improved health outcomes,” said Senthil Kumar, a research professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. “By drawing a blood sample in a minimally invasive manner, we can analyze the nano-carriers called ‘exosomes’ that are present in the bloodstream, which contain different biological information from normal and tumor cells.”
 
Symptoms of pancreatic cancer often do not present themselves until after the cancer has progressed, limiting treatment options to invasive procedures such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. Even so, current methods of diagnosis only have a small number of useful biomarkers. This system has been used for several years with few significant changes. Recently, studies have been directed towards identification of biomarkers for cancer and other diseases, through non-invasive means utilizing components in blood such as circulating tumor cells, cell free DNA and very recently extracellular vesicles—which includes microvesicles and exosomes. Through their collaborative studies, MU researchers have identified novel pieces of biological information, such as RNA, which may serve as biomarkers for early detection of pancreatic cancer.
 
For the initial collaborative study, Kumar and surgeons Eric Kimchi and Jussuf Kaifi from MU Health Care’s Ellis Fischel Cancer Center analyzed blood samples from healthy individuals as well as samples from patients at different stages of pancreatic disease.
“Identifying these biomarkers early on can help us learn of one’s susceptibility for disease development,” Kumar said.
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