London: An effective therapy for pancreatic cancer could soon be a reality as researchers have discovered a chemical compound that reduces the growth of cancerous tumours in the pancreas by 80 percent in treated mice.
The compound -- MM41 -- was designed to block faulty genes. It appears to do this by targeting little knots in their DNA called quadruplexes, especially found in faulty genes.
"This research provides a potentially very powerful alternative approach to the way that conventional drugs tackle pancreatic cancer -- by targeting a very specific area of the DNA of faulty genes," said led researcher Stephen Neidle, professor at University College London.
Neidle said that although these results are exciting, MM41 is not ideal for trialling in humans and further refinements are needed.
"We are now working to optimise this class of compounds, but it is clearly worthy of further investigation for potential use in treating pancreatic cancer in people," he said.
Pancreatic cancer is the most lethal of any common cancer. Researchers have estimated that only three in every 100 people diagnosed will live for five years or more and this survival rate has barely improved in the last 40 years.
The majority of patients are diagnosed too late for surgery -- currently the only potentially curative treatment -- and 80 percent of those who have surgery will witness the cancer return, the study noted.
For the study, the researchers conducted a small-scale trial, treating two groups of eight mice with pancreatic tumours with different doses of MM41 twice a week for 40 days (12 doses).
A control group received no treatment.
The tumours, in the group given the larger dose, decreased by an average of 80 percent during the treatment period.
Analysis of the mice tumours showed that the MM41 compound had been taken up into the nucleus of the cancer cells, showing that it was able to effectively target the pancreatic cancer tumour.
The team also saw no significant side effects on the mice during the study: there was no damage to other tissue or organs, and none of the mice showed any significant weight loss.
The study was published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.