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Researchers find new way to combat pancreatic cancer

Ashok Saluja, Ph.D.

A discovery by University of Minnesota cancer researchers may help stop the growth and spread of pancreatic cancer in patients. The research team found that a natural compound called triptolide can kill pancreatic cancer cells.

The laboratory study, led by Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., vice chair for research in the Department of Surgery, was the first to examine the ability of triptolide, which has been used as a natural medicine in China for hundreds of years, to induce pancreatic cancer cell death.

“Several research reports indicated its effectiveness against melanoma, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and stomach cancer,” Saluja says, “but no one had investigated the connection with pancreatic cancer.”

Pancreatic cancer, which shows few early symptoms and is usually well advanced when found, is difficult to treat and almost impossible to cure. According to Saluja, pancreatic cancer cells are aggressive, tough, and highly resistant to currently available chemotherapy treatments.

His team found that mice treated with triptolide had lower rates of pancreatic cancer growth, disease spread, and HSP70, a protein known to prevent the breakdown of pancreatic cancer cells, as compared with mice that did not receive the compound.

The study appeared in the October issue of Cancer Research.

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