Scientists on the Verge of Developing Drugs to Eradicate Pancreatic Cancer

Class of receptors may be precisely targeted by drug compounds.

Class of receptors may be precisely targeted by drug compounds.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer in the United States and is expected to move up the rankings in years to come due to the fact that it is not typically detected in early stages.

Seldom diagnosed early and typically spreading rapidly, the disease has no effective treatment once it advances. But researchers at the University of Houston are working to change that by developing drugs that will allow physicians to prolong patient survival and, possibly, even eradicate the disease.

“Our research on the role of liver X receptors, or LXRs, in pancreatic cancer cells points to a promising target and strategy in the treatment of pancreatic cancer,” said cancer biologist Chin-Yo Lin, an assistant professor with the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling (CNRCS). “We examined the levels of LXRs in patient tumor samples and studied the effects of candidate drug compounds targeting LXRs on cultured pancreatic cancer cells.”

LXRs works to regulate cholesterol, glucose metabolism, and inflammatory response modulation. Collaborating with CNRCS Director Jan-Ake Gustafsson, MD, PhD, a pioneer in the discovery of LXRs and the Robert A. Welch Professor in Biology and Biochemistry in the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Lin said there is now enough evidence to support the involvement of LXRs in a variety of malignancies.

Lin and his colleagues anticipate that further research will determine whether or not LXRs are expressed in all tumors or solely in a subset of tumors that might be more sensitive to drugs targeting LXRs. A secondary goal of the study is to test the effects of the drugs on pancreatic tumors in murine models, similar to those found in humans.

The end goal is to be able to develop drugs that specifically target LXRs in pancreatic cancer, as well as other types of cancers. The research team has already performed some studies of LXR expression in patient tumor samples and is preparing to analyze more samples.

Recent studies showed that drugs targeting LXRs can slow the growth of tumors in murine models transplanted with human tumor cells.

“Our findings point to a class of receptors that can be precisely targeted by drug compounds and are expected to stimulate both basic and translational research on their functions and application as a drug target,” Lin said. “Long-term goals are to develop additional drug compounds and clinical testing in human subjects, which will require several more years of research.”

The next steps for researchers include collecting more data from patient samples and information from pre-clinical studies. Based on those results, the scientists will move forward with clinical studies using existing compounds. Either that, or they plan to partner with biotech or pharmaceutical companies to develop better drug candidates.