New clues explain how pancreatic tumors evade the immune system

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New clues explain how pancreatic tumors evade the immune system

There are two related papers published in the June 12, 2012 edition of the prestigious journal Cancer Cell, describing how pancreatic tumors are able to secrete factors to prevent the patient’s immune system from recognizing or attacking the cancer cells.

Research for the first article took place in the New York University laboratory of Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD. Dr. Bar-Sagi received a 2008 Pilot Grant from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and this funding was cited as partially supporting this study. She is also a longstanding member of our Scientific Advisory Board, a past Chair, and currently serving as Interim Chair. The second article is out of the laboratory of Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Vonderheide recently joined the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Scientific Advisory Board. In addition, Dr. Vonderheide’s work is in collaboration with Ben Stanger, MD, PhD, recipient of the 2007 Ralph H. Hruban, MD – Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Career Development Award. The two research teams communicated to share results and coordinate complementary publication of their work.

Both articles report that pancreatic tumors secrete a protein called GM-CSF (granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor). Pancreatic tumors are known to be surrounded and infiltrated by a dense, complex tissue known as the tumor microenvironment. The research teams discovered in mouse models of pancreatic cancer that one of the roles of GM-CSF is to recruit cells to the microenvironment that impede an immune response against the tumor. They also demonstrated that the secretion of GM-CSF is dependent on mutant K-Ras, the most commonly mutated protein in pancreatic tumors.

The interdependence of pancreatic tumors and their microenvironment is an important subject for future research. The results from Drs. Bar-Sagi and Vonderheide published here suggest that blocking the production of GM-CSF may facilitate an immune response against the tumor. Further experiments will be necessary to determine whether this may be a feasible therapeutic approach.

Click here and here to see the scientific abstracts of both articles.
Click here for the NYU press release and here for the Penn press release.