Gene therapy of pancreatic cancer targeting the K-Ras oncogene

Cancer sucks, but some kinds of cancers suck worse than others.  One that really sucks is pancreatic cancer.  From the intro of this paper:

Pancreatic cancer (PC) is the fourth leading cause of cancer death among men and women, comprising 6% of all cancer-related death. The disease is usually diagnosed at advanced stage as it causes no specific symptoms in the early stages. Thus, the prognosis is very poor and the overall 5-year survival rate is <5%.

And then there is this:

There are several standard approaches to treat PC; however, none of them improves significantly the survival rates.

There is stuff physicians can do for pancreatic cancer, but it doesnt actually help.  :-/

This looks like a job for… GMO VIRUSES!!!!

Srsly. Its like, if you have an unsolvable problem, the answer to that problem is almost certainly going to be a virus at this point. Srsly. I mean, its starting to get so mainstream that its a cliche.  :P

Im kidding– this paper took a very clever approach to GMO viruses vs Pancreatic Cancer.  Nothing cliche about it.

Apparently, ~95% (!!) of PC have point mutations within a gene called K-Ras. K-Ras should only be turned on when cells are supposed to divide.  But with tumors, K-Ras is telling the cells to ‘DIVIDE DIVIDE DIVIDE DIVIDE DIVIDE’ when they are not supposed to.  It is always-on, instead of being controlled on/off.

This group of scientists did something very clever– they engineered an adenovirus to contain a PUMA gene proceeded by either nothing, or four signals that K-Ras loves, or five signals (Py2).  PUMA is ‘p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis‘– ie, when PUMA is around, cells die.

So since pancreatic tumors (95% of them) have LOTS of K-Ras, K-Ras was ‘tricked’ by the sexy Py2 signals (delivered by the virus) into generating PUMA.

Lots of K-Ras + GMO virus = lots of PUMA = dead tumor.

No sexy Py2, no PUMA.  No K-Ras, no PUMA.

This virus will only kill K-Ras upregulated cells, ie, tumors.

Of course, this paper was ‘only’ in cell lines and mice.  Not people, yet.  And, it wasnt able to perfectly kill the cell lines/tumors.

But it killed some of the cell lines (26-70%) and the tumors in the treated mice were ~1/4-1/3 the size of control mice.

Its not perfect, yet, but when you are dealing with a cancer that has stats like this:

…overall 5-year survival rate is <5%…

I will take ‘not-perfect’.  Especially for a first-try GMO virus.


  1. #1 Bob Powers
    October 29, 2012

    How very timely. As it happens, my Dad was in hospital for what turned out to be pancreatis. Luckily for us, it was only an infection/inflamed-condition (and not the “C” word). Apparently quite treatable.

    That said, the GMO-virus approach could eventually have broad applications in many cancers, I’d wager, not just those with really poor statistics.

  2. #2 Katie Graham
    October 29, 2012

    “Its not perfect, yet, but when you are dealing with a cancer that has stats like this:

    …overall 5-year survival rate is <5%…

    I will take ‘not-perfect’. "

    Absolutely. F*ck all cancer, but seriously, f*ck Pancreatic cancer. It took Randy Pausch.

    I saw an image online that said, "I wish cancer would get cancer and die." It should be, "I wish cancer would get a cancer-eating virus and die."

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