Pancreatic cancer is one of the most devastating cancers affecting Americans today. While it only accounts for about 3 percent of all new cancer cases, it results in about 7 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. The risk of a person developing pancreatic cancer during his lifetime is around 1.6 percent, and only about 8 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive longer than five years after diagnosis.
Because of the location of the pancreas, pancreatic cancer is rarely caught in its early stages. For many patients, it isn’t detected until it has spread to nearby organs such as the liver, gallbladder, and intestines. Once it has spread, it is very difficult to get under control, which is why it is very often quickly fatal.
But researchers may have recently discovered a gene mutation that prevents the development of pancreatic cancer, perhaps providing some insight into how pancreatic cancer develops and how it might be able to be treated. Studying mice, researchers found that a certain mutation in the p53 protein caused certain mice not to develop pancreatic cancer. That protein is found in both humans and mice on the 17th chromosome.
The p53 protein is well known as a protein that works to suppress tumors. The particular mutation to the p53 protein is known as TAD2, and mice with that mutation to their p53 protein did not develop pancreatic cancer, whereas 40 percent of mice with a normally functioning p53 protein did develop pancreatic cancer.
That brings up interesting questions about whether or not similar mutations in human beings might offer the same protection against pancreatic cancer, and if so whether it might be possible to edit that gene or stimulate its mutation in people in order to cut their risk of developing cancer. Especially if that mutation can be found to effective in preventing the development of other types of cancers, this could be a very important discovery.