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New protein discovery offers pancreatic cancer hope

Scientists in Spain believe they have discovered a new avenue of research for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Experts at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM) have published details of a newly-identified protein called galectin-1, which they say can potentially impact on a patient's chances of survival upon diagnosis of the disease.

Using mouse models, they found that inhibiting the protein could improve recovery rates by 20 per cent, with no adverse effects felt as a result.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the more difficult forms of the illness to treat and detect, mainly because the symptoms are more difficult to spot than some of the other variations.

According to official figures, around 8,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with it every year, with the majority of those aged over 70. The survival rate beyond five years is just two per cent, representing one of the worst prognoses of the disease.

Until recently, the main strategy for addressing a pancreatic tumour was to attack its cells, although this offered little success. However, the latest finding suggests a better approach might be to try to destroy the area around the tumour instead.

IMIM director of research Dr Pilar Navarro said: "Our contribution is directed toward this [strategy], as the reduction of galectin-1 mainly affects the immune system and the cells and structure that surrounds the tumour cells, which is called the stroma. Therefore, galectin-1 as a therapeutic target has great potential."

Galectin-1 has been linked with the progression of tumours in other contexts and a relationship has also been identified with pancreatic tumours, although it is not found in the normal pancreas. Previous studies have already looked at the impact of antibodies against the protein when trying to treat other forms of cancer, signalling this method could prove to be beneficial for cases involving the pancreas.ADNFCR-438-ID-801732362-ADNFCR

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