Israeli Study on Mice Brings Cure for Cancer of the Pancreas in Humans Somewhat Closer

You shall serve Hashem your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst. Exodus 23:25 (The Israel Bible™)

Cancer of the pancreas – the gland involved in the digestive and endocrine systems that are located in the abdomen behind the stomach – is very lethal because it causes no symptoms during the early stages when the tumor would be most treatable. 

About 95% of victims of pancreatic cancer die from it; it tends to be discovered at advanced stages when abdominal pain or jaundice may result. Stage-four pancreatic cancer is incurable: patients have extremely poor chances of surviving for five years after being diagnosed at this stage.

While the median survival rate is around three to six months after diagnosis, some people live longer than this. Many individual factors, including age and general health, play a role in a person’s prognosis. 

Five-year survival rates approach 25% if the cancers are surgically removed while they are still small and have not spread to the lymph nodes. The bad news is that just seven percent of people with pancreatic cancer survive more than five years, and fewer than two percent are alive after a decade. Pancreatic cancer is resistant to all current treatments. 

The good news is a new Tel Aviv University study that showed that a small molecule has the ability to induce the self-destruction of pancreatic cancer cells in rodents The research was conducted with xenografts –transplantations of human pancreatic cancer into mice that have weakened immune systems mice. The treatment reduced the number of cancer cells by 90% in the developed tumors a month after it was given. The research holds great potential for the development of a new effective therapy to treat this aggressive cancer in humans. 

“Despite a substantial advance in cancer treatment, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma has a limited response to current treatment,” the team wrote. “Thus, there is an urgent need to explore new mechanisms for treating this lethal malignancy.”

The study was led by Prof. Malka Cohen-Armon and her team at the university’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, in collaboration with Dr. Talia Golan’s team at the Cancer Research Center at Sheba Medical Center. It was published recently in the journal Oncotarget under the title 

“The phenanthrene derivative PJ34 exclusively eradicates human pancreatic cancer cells in xenografts.” 

“In research published in 2017, we discovered a mechanism that causes the self-destruction of human cancer cells during their duplication (mitosis) without affecting normal cells,” explained Cohen-Armon. “We have now harnessed this information to efficiently eradicate human pancreatic cancer cells in xenografts. The current results were obtained using a small molecule that evokes this self-destruction mechanism in a variety of human cancer cells.”

The mice were treated with a molecule called PJ34, which is permeable in the cell membrane but affects human cancer cells exclusively. This molecule causes an anomaly during the duplication of human cancer cells, provoking their rapid cell death. Thus, cell multiplication itself resulted in cell death in the treated cancer cells, the research team said. 

A month after being injected with PJ34 daily for two weeks, the pancreatic cancer cells in the tumors of the treated mice experienced a relative drop of 90%. In one mouse, the tumor completely disappeared. 

“It is important to note that no adverse effects were observed, and there were no changes in the weight gain of the mice, nor in their behavior,” added Cohen-Armon. 

This mechanism acts efficiently in additional types of cancer, including types resistant to current therapies. The molecule PJ34 is being tested in pre-clinical trials according to FDA regulations before clinical trials begin. The efficient eradication of malignant cells in human pancreas cancer xenografts presents a new model of pancreas cancer treatment,” they concluded.