According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 48,960 people in the United States will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015; 40,560 of those individuals are expected to die from the disease. This devastatingly low survival rate—as little as one percent for most Stage IV diagnoses—is partly attributed to the fact that pancreatic cancer is seldom detected in its early stages. All this may change, however, thanks to tiny, virus- sized particles called GPC1+ crExos.
Discovered in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer cells by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and collaborators in Spain and Germany, the presence of these particles, known as exosomes, could be used as a non-invasive screening tool to diagnose early stages of the disease—and as with any cancer, earlier detection corresponds with increased survival.
Published in the June 24, 2015, issue of the journal Nature, the study tested the blood of 251 patients with pancreatic cancer and found evidence of these cancer exosomes in each and every sample. GPC1+ crExos were not detected in the blood of patients who did not have cancer.
“So far, our study shows that with 100 percent sensitivity and specificity, we can detect all pancreatic cancer patients as having these exosomes,” said Raghu Kalluri, M.D., Ph.D., chair of cancer biology at MD Anderson and lead researcher for the study. “Whether that number remains the same when we test 5,000 patients, we don’t know. With any such discovery, you need more validation and proof from various other sources, but this is by far the best we’ve seen compared to any other biomarker available today.”
Because these exosomes are present in large numbers in the blood of patients with pancreatic cancer, the hope is that ultimately, a simple blood test could diagnose the disease. This could have far-reaching implications for screening, diagnostics and treatment, considering there is nothing like it in the field today.
Currently, pancreatic cancer is not generally diagnosed early because symptoms are all but absent until the disease has progressed to a late stage. By the time a patient presents with abdominal pain, weight loss, jaundice, nausea or enlarged lymph nodes, the cancer is almost always too advanced for surgical treatment, which offers the greatest chance of survival by far.
Routine screening for the disease, even for patients with high risk factors such as family history, is prohibitively expensive and can result in false positives—and, because detection relies on imaging such as MRIs and CT scans, still may not spot the cancer in its early stages. A blood test, however, which could measure even the slightest presence of these cancer exosomes, could be offered to the general public, and, based on the results of this study, would provide a definitive—and most importantly, early—diagnosis.
“The hope is that if we can create a tool for early detection, patients will have the opportunity to get surgical intervention for these pancreatic tumors and survival rates will go up,” said Kalluri.
In addition to offering a revolutionary method for exposing the disease at its earliest stages, GPC1+ crExos testing could also be utilized as a monitoring tool for patients already undergoing treatment for pancreatic tumors.
“We could use the test to tailor chemotherapy—to show how well chemotherapy is working or not working, or in the context of relapse or remission or therapy resistance,” said Kalluri. “Based on the levels of the exosomes we see in the blood, we could get an idea of what the tumor burden is in a particular individual, then customize treatment.”
It is important to mention that the most notable pancreatic tumor marker currently recognized in clinical practice, carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9), is already being used to monitor the progression of pancreatic tumors. Unfortunately, the American Society of Clinical Oncology discourages the use of this antibody for screening purposes due to high incidences of false readings.
Although more research needs to be completed through clinical studies, Kalluri and his colleagues are hopeful that GPC1+ crExos may lead to a breakthrough in pancreatic cancer diagnostics. Interestingly, their study also revealed the presence of these exosomes in some breast cancer patients, suggesting further analysis may offer widespread significance in the broader field of cancer research. If these exosomes are, in fact, present in patients with other cancers, disease-specific assays coupled with genetic analysis could lay the groundwork for blood test screening for numerous types of malignancies. Even more, because exosomes contain RNA, DNA and proteins, GPC1+ crExos may provide additional cancer-specific genetic information and potentially lead to new therapies for the disease.
“More work needs to be done, but we are excited about what we’ve seen so far,” Kalluri said. “These exosomes could prove to be life-saving biomarkers for pancreatic cancer, and, depending on what we discover through further analysis, maybe much more.”
Happy Friday! Thank you to @KSFOrthopaedic for sending us this joke! If you have a favorite joke, send it to us and we might use it in a future post. #jokes #ThanksgivingJokes #funny https://t.co/jQsZxN7G1V
Our Dr. Cheng-En Hsieh explains why radiation-induced liver disease is an important factor to consider during #livercancer treatment: https://t.co/M18QvNAneT @cure_magazine #endcancer
RT @bcm_ocd: So excited to have Dr. Jeff Wood present the results of our NIH funded study examining personalized CBT vs. standard care CBT…
RT @BCMHoustonJobs: We're hiring! Read about our latest job opening here: Instructor - Nurse Practitioner - https://t.co/ZKY1iNNTuY #Health…
Today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Louis D. Brinner, who served as a rifleman in Europe during WWII and turns 100 Nov. 22: https://t.co/g8CQSNuLTI
At @TexasChildrens, we know all about helping children and their families through stressful times like surgeries. Take a look at these helpful tools to use as you prepare for your child's surgery: https://t.co/4wyHxbjcxe https://t.co/xBp95faWly
Even though this lightweight material is full of holes, it's nearly as hard as diamond and stops bullets better than solid materials: https://t.co/N1QBG6C6yz https://t.co/XKyesrwt6c
@ShirleyHelenTx We're sending good vibes your way, Shirley. Please let us know if your husband needs anything while he's here.
A "silent heart attack" is caused by ischemia, a temporary blood shortage. Sometimes the shortage causes the pain of angina pectoris. But in other cases, there is no pain. These cases are called silent ischemia, or "silent heart attacks." https://t.co/UKu4mglkKJ
After seeing photos of herself from a family celebration, Adriana Mercado was shocked at how unhealthy she looked. Now, thanks to a walking routine, she’s lost 70 pounds and improved her overall health: https://t.co/dx7z4STihG @FocusedonHealth #endcancer https://t.co/NVmGyo6r8W
University of Houston@UHouston
Coogs, we love you ❄️SNOW❄️ much! Happy #CougarRedFriday https://t.co/d43lBGfJBX
@debadrita_j Thank you!
VA, Prostate Cancer Foundation seek solutions for aggressive prostate cancer https://t.co/uGXX5vPImo via #VAntagePoint
@debadrita_j This is beautiful! Can we share this on Instagram and credit you?
RT @UTH_CVSurgery: Congratulations to Dr. Anthony Estrera @estrera_md, honored and appointed the Hazim J. Safi, MD, Distinguished Chair in…