Pancreatic cancers actually utilize the same process used by sprinter’s muscles as they are about to race. How? Well as it turns out, a molecule called creatine phosphate is rapidly transformed into creatine in a reaction releasing lots of energy—much like a turbo boost in a car. So when the pistol fires and the race commences, the runner’s stored creatine is converted and their muscles contract—the runner’s off to the finish line. So as pancreatic cancers begin to spread, they work in a similar way, reports Cancer UK.

Cancer UK Beatson Institute Investigates into Pancreatic Cancer

Laura Machesky is an expert in how cancer spreads and has been on a quest to understand how and why pancreatic is so particularly aggressive and spreads so fast to so many other parts of the body, reports Cancer UK’s Science Blog. Machesky needed an engineering partner to recreate conditions in a lab and hence teams with Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, an expert in biomedical engineering at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Their recent study results were published in Nature Metabolism, reports Harry Jenkins for Cancer UK.

The Study

This team recently found that pancreatic cancer cells grown on a stiff tumor environment actually become more mobile. As cancer cells with the exact DNA revealed, this aggressive nature of the cancer isn’t totally hard wired and hence the physical surroundings of the cell was a significant factor. The team found that cells grown in a stiffer environment, replicated by Professor Salmeron-Sanchez’s engineering, used a lot of extra energy.  

It Is generally thought that pancreatic cancers don’t have access to good sources of oxygen and nutrients, reported Dr. Oliver Maddocks, an expert in cancer metabolism at the University of Glasgow Institute of Cancer Sciences. But he did note that some previous research points to pancreatic cancer cell flexibility in its quest for energy.

Maddocks laboratory, which specializes in cancer metabolism, helped the teams peer into the energy processes occurring within the pancreatic cells.

Pancreatic Cell Energy Creation

As it turns out, one way for cells to produce energy is through the stored creatine phosphate like the type used in sprinting. Those pancreatic cancer cells produced in stiffer environments evidenced higher levels of creatine and an enzyme known as creatine kinase B-type (CKB), which turns creatine phosphate into creatine.

The team tested this hypothesis by removing CKB to see if it affected a cell’s ability to migrate—and it did. In the lab environment at the University of Glasgow, the cancer cells that didn’t have CKB didn’t move like those regular cancer cells. Hence the researchers established a link between cell migration, metabolism and the physical properties of pancreatic cancer’s environment.

Could Targeting CKB be an option for preventing metastasis in pancreatic cancer?

Yes. This hypothesis established the UK group points in this direction. They performed additional research by testing the idea on mice—and they found that that tumors with CKB removed or blocked spread less from the spleen to the liver reports Mr. Jenkins.

Lead Research/Investigator

Laura Machesky, Cancer UK, Beatson Institute

Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, Chair of Biomedical Engineering University of Glasgow

Dr. Oliver Maddocks, University of Glasgow

Call to Action: The researchers will undertake further investigation into this topic including experiments with more complicated materials even closer to the real tumor environment. TrialSite News will monitor. Those interested in pancreatic cancer research may want to follow.

Source: Cancer Research UK

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