The scientific team, led by Department of Oncology researcher Michael Sawyer, found that by using metabolomics—the unique chemical fingerprints that cellular processes leave behind—to detect pancreatic cancer at an early stage may facilitate the discovery of novel pancreatic cancer biomarkers. The article was published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.
“We were surprised at how good these results were,” said Sawyer, an Alberta Health Services medical oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute. “Pancreatic cancer is incredibly hard to detect, and symptoms are very vague. This method did a good job of discriminating between people with cancer and those without.”
The team compared urine samples of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma patients with those of a healthy population as well as those of patients with benign pancreatic disease and found a “clear distinction” among the profiles, suggesting that metabolomic approaches may be able to help detect the disease earlier.
Currently, the median survival of PDAC is 12 months, and the only potential curative treatment is surgery. However, if the disease isn’t detected early, surgery no longer remains an option. Up to 80 per cent of patients present at an advanced, incurable stage.
“This study is important because if pancreatic cancer is discovered earlier, then maybe something can be done,” said Sawyer, whose team, which completed a follow-up study with similar results, includes researchers from the University of Calgary.
Urinary metabolomics can define unique tumour-related signatures, opening up new avenues for non-invasive screening of high-risk populations, say the research team. Specific pancreatic cancer metabolomic signatures could also uncover new therapies when surgery fails.
The study was funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation and its many donors, including one whose life has been heavily impacted by pancreatic cancer. She lost her husband, father-in-law and cousin to the disease.
“My husband had six siblings, and we have four children and two grandsons,” said Barb. “I donate specifically to pancreatic research at the Cross Cancer Institute because I am hoping that it will help so that my family and others will not have to go through what we have in the past.”
Alberta Cancer Foundation CEO Myka Osinchuk said: “We are honoured that Barb donated to us to fund this important research. It is exciting to see donor dollars have a direct impact on outcomes that are important to Albertans—in this case earlier detection and improved treatment options.”
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