Researchers of the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (Imim) and the Barcelona Biomedical Research Institute (IIBB-CSIC-Idibaps) found a new tag diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, which could be detected in its early stages with a blood test.
It is a new valid marker for diagnosis in this type of tumor, one of the worst forecast and that it is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in developed countries.
As explained by IMIM researcher Neus Martínez-Bosch, they confirmed the usefulness of the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL, a protein. present on the surface of cells, to detect the presence of pancreatic cancer in patients.
This protein is usually absent in normal cells but it has been shown that its presence is especially increased in certain types of tumors, such as those of the pancreas, in which it is associated with the progression of the disease.
The discovery of this new marker, published in the journal ‘eBiology‘and in which researchers from the National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), the Ramón y Cajal Institute for Health Research (IRYCIS) and the CIBER also collaborated, are feasible in the type of pancreatic cancer most common, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.
Only 20% work on time
With almost 8,700 cases of pancreatic cancer were diagnosed in 2021 in Spain, the lack of diagnostic markers is one of the main problems, as only 20% of patients can be operated on in time, and metastasis and resistance to treatment are common in more advanced tumors.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this marker, the researchers collected and analyzed blood samples from 59 patients from Hospital del Mar, and the results were validated with a second group of 142 patients at Hospital Clinic.
The study was supplemented by a third group of familial pancreatic cancers, several animal models in mice, and in vitro analyzes in human tumor cells to substantiate this.
“We identified the levels of soluble AXL protein in blood, collected plasma and analyzed the levels of this marker in the control group, in patients with chronic pancreatitis and in patients with pancreatic tumors,” Martínez-Bosch said in detail.
“We therefore showed the presence of the marker in blood only in patients who have already developed the tumor, without being present in healthy individuals or in those suffering from chronic pancreatitis,” said IIBB-CSIC-IDIBAPS researcher Helena Cristóbal pointed out.
With a simple analysis
For the Head of the Digestive Endoscopy Division at Hospital del Mar, Louis Barranco, “this fact is very important as pancreatitis is a pathology that can make diagnosis difficult in patients with pancreatic cancer”.
The researchers stressed that the detection of this protein can be done a simple blood test.
According to Pilar Navarro, coordinator of research on new molecular targets for cancer at the IMIM, “the AXL protein is a specific marker that tells us that malignant cells already exist. It is a important find, because sometimes some tumor markers are already present in the preneoplastic lesions, although not in all cases these lesions progress “.
Bring it to the clinical practice
The next step for the researchers is to start a multi-center study to analyze data from a large group of patients to validate their discovery and put it into clinical practice immediately, as currently there is no biomarker for early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
The assistant doctor of the Hospital del Mar Oncology Service, Laura Visa, emphasized that “having a new tool in the field of diagnosis is of particular importance, because early diagnosis is essential for tumor surgery, the only treatment option cure”.
The researchers also want to determine which patients may benefit from this new marker, as a small number of pancreatic tumors do not express the AXL protein.
“We are very interested to know why some cancers do not express AXL, it may give us clues to know how the tumor mechanisms work that we can use as targets for treatments”, said the director of the Department of Cell Death and Proliferation of the IIBB-CSIC -IDIBAPS, Pablo García de Frutos.