UCSD researchers discover enzyme indicator of pancreatic cancer

SAN DIEGO – UC San Diego researchers announced Wednesday that they may have found a way to predict pancreatic cancer severity and development by determining a patient’s levels of two enzymes.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Molecular Cell, found that high levels of the enzyme PHLPP1 leads to low levels of Protein Kinase C. The latter is important to the regulation of cell development while the former maintains PKC at healthy levels.

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“That means the amount of PHLPP1 in your cells determines your amount of PKC,” said Alexandra Newton, the study’s lead author. “And it turns out those enzyme levels are especially important in pancreatic cancer.”

Researchers found that high PHLPP1 levels and low PKC levels led to higher mortality rates in patients with pancreatic cancer. Newton and her research team had previously determined in 2015 that PKC keeps tumors from developing, the inverse of what cancer researchers had believed for 30 years.

According to the study, pancreatic cancer patients who had low PKC levels survived no more than five-and-a-half years while 50 percent of patients with high PKC levels, and low levels of PHLPP1, survived more than five-and-a- half years. The research team said the findings could be use to more accurately cancer prognoses and, possibly, develop pancreatic cancer treatments that inhibit PHLPP1.

“If we could test a patient with pancreatic cancer and know that they have high PHLPP1 and low PKC, we’d know that the prognosis is not good,” Newton said. “And perhaps we could inhibit their PHLPP1, restore PKC activity and ultimately improve their chances of survival.”

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