Nada Kalaany, PhD

Breakthrough Study by Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Grantee Evaluates Tumor Growth In Obese Vs. Lean Mice

Gene Responsible for Enhanced Tumor Growth Found to be Induced in Overweight Pancreatic Cancer Patients’ Tumors

MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — (August 14, 2017) Obesity is a known risk factor for pancreatic cancer, a disease with a five-year survival of only 9 percent, but little is known about how, or if, the disease behaves differently in obese vs. lean individuals. In a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, a researcher funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), focuses on understanding genetic changes in pancreatic tumors grown in obese mice vs. lean mice. The study validates the direct link to obesity and exposes potential treatment options for patients within this group.

“We find that obesity-associated tumors have enhanced growth and increased expression of genes that metabolize nitrogen,” said lead author Nada Kalaany, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and associate in medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital. “In particular, tumors of the obese are dependent on arginase 2 (ARG2), an enzyme that helps them get rid of excess nitrogen, a byproduct of protein breakdown that could accumulate in the form of ammonia.”

Kalaany adds that, “Silencing ARG2 in human tumors grown in obese mice strongly suppresses tumor growth – representing a novel strategy to stop or slow disease progression.”

In 2015, Kalaany received PanCAN’s Career Development Award – a $200K grant funded by an anonymous foundation, which directly supported this groundbreaking research.

“We are thrilled to have played an integral role in Dr. Kalaany’s pivotal research,” said Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Novel approaches like this will help move us closer to our goal to double survival by 2020 and ultimately, improve patient outcomes. We will continue to bolster young investigators to accelerate progress in the field.”

Since 2003, PanCAN, with the support of its generous donors, has awarded a total of 159 grants to 158 scientists at 58 institutions throughout the country through its competitive peer-reviewed Research Grants Program. The organization’s cumulative research investment is projected to be over $48.5 million, including internal research initiatives.

“Thanks to PanCAN’s funding, my team and I were able to discover a way that tumors in obese patients – and other fast-growing pancreatic tumors – exhibit aggressive growth. The next translational step for our project would be to screen for and validate an inhibitor(s) that would be specific for ARG2 and could extend patient lives,” Kalaany added.

Pancreatic cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the country and expected to become the second by 2020. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is a trendsetting pancreatic cancer organization attacking the disease on all fronts through research, clinical initiatives, patient services and advocacy.

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