Summer
2010

Discovery

Prion as a marker for pancreatic cancer

With a five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer, and doctors currently have few tools at their disposal to aid in early detection. However, researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have identified a biomarker to help doctors diagnose and treat this deadly disease.

Man-Sun Sy, PhD, professor of pathology; assistant professor Wei Xin, MD; and research associate Chaoyang Li, PhD, have identified prion—an abnormal protein typically associated with the brain—as a biomarker for pancreatic cancer. In human pancreatic cancer cells, prion is incompletely processed and binds to the molecule filamin A. They found that when an incompletely processed prion binds to filamin A, it disrupts the cell’s organization and signaling—resulting in aggressive tumor-cell growth. When the prion level is reduced, the tumor cell loses its ability to grow. About 40 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer express prion in their cancer, and they have significantly shorter survival compared with patients whose cancers lack prion.

Detection of the incompletely processed prion may provide the early diagnostic marker doctors need to detect pancreatic cancer, according to Sy. In addition, exploring ways to prevent the binding of prion to filamin A may open new avenues for therapeutic treatment, he says.

The team’s findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.