How about a potential treatment?
Scientists at the University of Minnesota are working on what could be one of the first major breakthroughs in the fight against pancreatic cancer in 30 years. That breakthrough may just come at the hands of a centuries-old Chinese arthritis remedy.
Triptolide is a compound that, in its crude form, was historically used in China as a natural remedy to relieve the symptoms of arthritis. But it’s also been proven in laboratory tests to destroy pancreatic cancer cells in mice by inhibiting a protein that protects the cancerous cells, allowing them to reproduce.
University of Minnesota researchers adapted Triptolide to create a compound known as Minnelide by modifying the original compound, optimizing the effectiveness and making the drug safe and administrable to patients.
Scientists have only become interested in Minnelide as a possible cancer treatment within the last two years. But if the next phase of clinical trials shows the same promise U of M researchers have witnessed in mice models, the results could be groundbreaking.
“We believe Minnelide will work independently in treating pancreatic cancer," said Professor Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., vice chair of research in the department of surgery at the University of Minnesota and president of the International Association of Pancreatology. "Our hope is that it will become the chemotherapy equivalent for pancreatic cancer."
Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive cancer. The pancreas is located deep within the body, near the spine and vital organs. Pancreatic cancer shows few early symptoms and is often well advanced by the time of diagnosis. Currently the most common treatment is a combination of chemotherapy and surgery, which involves removing part of the pancreas. Even with treatment, prognosis for a pancreatic cancer patient is grim, most losing the battle within six months to two years after diagnosis.
Minnelide works by inhibiting the function of a protein called Heat Shock Protein 70 (HSP70), found in many different types of cells.
When cells are stressed, HSP70 goes into overdrive to protect them. While such a reaction can sometimes be helpful in fighting disease, the reaction becomes counter-productive in pancreatic cancer cells, preventing the body or medication from attacking or breaking down the cancerous cells.
Researchers will continue to study the effects of Minnelide in rats and dogs before testing it in humans. They hope to develop phase one clinical trials in humans within the next 12 months.
“We are extremely optimistic it will work,” Saluja said. “Just imagine the possibilities if it works. That’s what excites me most; that we can reduce suffering.”
--- Tessa Boen