(USA)

Research by a team from the University of Pennsylvania could lead to new treatments that target a deadly form of cancer.

The prognosis for pancreatic cancer is bleak. Difficult to detect, the cancer has usually spread by the time it is discovered, with survival time from that point averaging just six months. There have been some positive recent developments, though, that could change this picture.

The University of Pennsylvania team found that by blocking an enzyme existing in normal cells, it could prevent pancreatic cancer from spreading. In tests, abolishing the FAP (fibroblast activation protein) enzyme in mice extended the animals’ life.

“By targeting FAP with a drug, we may be able to slow down the spread of the cancer,” said Ellen Puré, chair of the Department of Biomedical Science in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Next, the team plans to look at which element of FAP causes the disease to advance, and with inhibitors to its activity already available, a human therapy could be within touching distance.

The breakthrough follows another at the University of Washington, where researchers have created an app that uses selfies to screen for pancreatic cancer.

“The problem with pancreatic cancer is that by the time you’re symptomatic, it’s frequently too late,” said Alex Mariakakis, a doctoral student at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “The hope is that if people can do this simple test once a month – in the privacy of their own homes – some might catch the disease early enough to undergo treatment that could save their lives.”