Pancreatic cancer is a deadly disease that, as per the estimation of National Cancer Institute, has affected more than 43,000 Americans in 2010. And the fact that 36,000 died from it does not help matter either.
Though genetic science has advanced by leaps and bounds over the years, scientists are still at a loss to unravel the complex signaling pathway that pancreatic cancer takes in humans.
But a new study has thrown some light on the same. A team of researchers have resorted to a simple organism (a common roundworm) and discovered how the Ras oncogene chooses a signaling pathway and how the consequences of that choice play out in cellular development. This is a significant issue in cancer that is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth.
The team leader Channing Der explains that the cell signaling pathways are very complex in humans. Ras can opt to interact with more than 20 various partners besides the chief proteins Raf and RalGEF. In C. elegans, there is only one of each protein. This eased out the complexity and helped the researchers identify how Ras chooses a partner.
They found that Ras’ choices lead to different fates for the cell. It can help them identify if similar mechanisms work in determining how Ras causes pancreatic cancer. ‘Worm’ cells share a good deal of functional overlap with the cells of humans. Nevertheless, in a roundworm there is only one mechanism at work contrary to multiple mechanisms in humans. But the C. elegans model may be instrumental in helping the scientists find new therapeutic targets for pancreatic cancer.