Malaria drug could be used to treat pancreatic cancer

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Malaria drug could be used to treat pancreatic cancer

The prestigious scientific journal Genes and Development published an exciting study online on March 15, 2011, discussing a potential new treatment option for pancreatic cancer. This study was primarily conducted in the laboratory of Alec Kimmelman, MD, PhD, whose work was partially funded by a 2010 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network -- AACR Career Development Award. Another collaborator on the study, Nabeel Bardeesy, PhD, was the recipient of a 2008 Randy Pausch, PhD -- Pancreatic Cancer Action Network -- AACR Pilot Grant. Most of this research took place at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University.

Dr. Kimmelman and colleagues identified a mechanism that was unexpectedly prevalent in pancreatic cancer cells. Autophagy is a process by which cells break down and engulf nonessential proteins within the cell itself, as a source of nutrition under conditions where other nutrients may be scarce. Surprisingly, autophagy was active in pancreatic cancer cells regardless of the supply of accessible nutrients, suggesting that the cells may depend on this pathway constantly. Because of these findings, Dr. Kimmelman and colleagues examined drugs that are known to block autophagy.

A drug commonly used to treat malaria, called chloroquine, functions to inhibit the final step of autophagy. Dr. Kimmelman and colleagues were able to display that chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine, could block the growth of pancreatic cancer cells in a dish. Other cell types that do not depend on autophagy were unaffected by chloroquine treatment. Furthermore, the drug showed effectiveness in several mouse models that mimic the progression of human pancreatic cancer. These impressive laboratory results have led to at least two ongoing clinical trials in which chloroquine is being examined as a treatment for pancreatic cancer in human patients. Encouragingly, there are already significant data showing that chloroquine is safe for use in humans, and is an inexpensive drug.

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network encourages all patients to consider clinical trials when exploring treatment options. In order to assist interested patients in locating applicable clinical trial options, the organization’s PanCAN Patient Services Case Managers conduct personalized clinical trial searches based on each patient’s specific diagnosis, treatment history, geographical location, and willingness to travel. Case Managers use the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s comprehensive, up-to-date database of all IRB-approved pancreatic cancer-specific clinical trials taking place nationwide to locate potential trial options for the patient. Patients are strongly encouraged to take trial information to their physicians for treatment advice.

For more information about ongoing clinical trials or other questions about pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment, please contact a PanCAN Patient Services Case Manager toll-free at 877-272-6226 or by completing our contact form. PanCAN Patient Services Case Managers are available M-F 7am-5pm Pacific Time.

Click here for the scientific abstract of the paper.
Click here for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network press release.