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The complexity of pancreatic cancer

complexity of pancreatic cancer
Figure created with BioRender.com

On this image, we see a depiction of a pancreatic tumor on the left and a detailed zoom-in of one of its cancer cells on the right. This panel illustrates the aggressive nature of pancreatic cancer, showing how it grows and invades without significant interference—highlighting why this cancer type is so dangerous.

The Tumor’s Shield

On the left side of the image, the tumor is surrounded by a dense stroma, characteristic for pancreatic cancer. This stroma is filled with cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) that produce extracellular matrix (ECM), essentially creating a protective shield around the tumor. This shield makes it difficult for therapies and the immune system to penetrate and attack the cancer cells. The image shows how immune cells are unable to breach this barrier, rendering them ineffective in eliminating the cancer.

The Cancer Cell’s Intrinsic Processes

The right panel zooms in on a single cancer cell, revealing a myriad of processes at play. Key proteins associated with cell growth and division, such as p53 and SMAD, are prominently featured. Pancreatic cancer is notorious for its genomic instability, driven by mutations in critical genes like these, which enable the cells to grow uncontrollably and accelerate disease progression. This genetic chaos also contributes to the tumor’s resistance to therapy due to heterogeneity.

Growth and Survival

On the surface of the cancer cell, numerous receptors like HGFR, EGFR, and FGFR are visible, all of which are linked to growth. Pancreatic cancer cells evade normal growth suppressor signals, leading to unchecked proliferation. The image also highlights the continuous activation of the MAPK cascade, which drives increased cell division and affects the HIF1a protein, a key regulator of various processes.

HIF1a promotes angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels) and metabolic reprogramming. For example, it modulates levels of VEGF, a critical protein in angiogenesis. Unfortunately, this often results in poor-quality, leaky blood vessels with inadequate perfusion, pushing the tumor into a hypoxic (low oxygen) state. The image also shows GLUT1, a metabolic protein that helps cancer cells survive in these harsh, hypoxic conditions, further enhancing their resistance to cell death.

The Clinical Challenge

This combination of aggressive growth, resistance to treatment, and late detection due to nonspecific symptoms and lack of screening markers, makes pancreatic cancer one of the deadliest cancers. Its complexity and resilience contribute to the low survival rates, emphasizing the urgent need for better diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.

By understanding these intricate details, we gain insight into the challenge pancreatic cancer presents, underscoring the importance of continued research and innovation in combating this lethal disease.

ElmediX strives to improve quality of life

ElmediX strives to extend the lives of cancer patients worldwide and to improve their quality of life. Initially, our focus is on pancreatic cancer, but other cancer types are also being investigated.