MIR506, a small microRNA molecule, could be the key to new treatments to suppress deadly and aggressive pancreatic cancer, a new study has found. Through a process named autophagy, which assists cells in balancing sources of energy and plays a role in programmed cell death, scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA, believe it might be possible to stop pancreatic cancer cells in their tracks before the disease takes hold. The development of new techniques to manage pancreatic cancer is of vital importance as there are very few effective treatments apart from surgery, which is not available to many patients. Partly as a result of the lack of effective treatments, although pancreatic cancer only represents 3% of all cancers in the USA, it accounts for about 7% of all deaths from cancer.
The team, led by Prof Wei Zhang, studied the role of this molecule in pancreatic cancer, commenting: “In this study, we hypothesized that MIR506 exerted a tumour-suppression function in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma by inducing autophagy-related cell death.” To test this hypothesis, they used mice that had been implanted with tumour tissue from pancreatic cancer patients and measured the levels of MIR506 in the mice. They found that these levels were higher in a normal pancreas and depleted in pancreatic tumours. Furthermore, they found that cancer cell growth was halted by introducing MIR506 to experimental tumour cells. Additionally, MIR506 prevented cells metastasis, which meant that and the tumour was therefore unable to spread to the surrounding tissues.
The findings are pertinent for researchers studying new treatments options for this cancer, as it demonstrates that this molecule is able to act as a tumour suppressor. The team noted “MIR506 triggered autophagic flux in PDAC cells,” with the effect of “autophagy-related cell death through direct targeting” of the STAT3-BCL2-BECN1 axis signal pathway. Prof Zhang added: “The potential therapeutic value of this finding is important because we could deliver MIR506 directly to pancreatic cancer cells using technologies like nanoparticles and exosomes. Hopefully, this will provide us with a new way to fight this deadly form of cancer.”