New Research at the U Could Improve Pancreatic Cancer Treatment

By Mary Royal

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(Doctor Jody Rosenblatt - Courtesy of Huntsman Cancer Institute)
(Doctor Jody Rosenblatt – Courtesy of Huntsman Cancer Institute)

Researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) stumbled across a breakthrough that may lead to more aggressive ways of treating pancreatic cancer.

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Jody Rosenblatt, an associate professor in the U’s Department of Oncological Sciences and a researcher on the cell mechanism research effort at HCI, described the recent findings as an “accidental discovery.”

“We started researching in 2000 to 2001 without any sort of direction as to where we wanted our research to take us,” Rosenblatt said. “Sometimes I find that when I’m looking for something specific I don’t find the answers I want, but when I start working other answers tend to come forward and take my research in a different direction than was originally intended.”

Epithelial cells and tissue, Rosenblatt said, line major cavities in the body and cover most organs. This tissue helps the organs to keep their identity and carry out the proper functions. The turnover rate of these cells is quite high, making it where most abnormalities begin.

It’s where these cells go rogue that researchers, such as Rosenblatt, believe they may have found a mechanism leading to pancreatic cancer.

Rosenblatt and her team of researchers have used zebrafish in their research to mimic the epithelial cells and tissues of humans. The fish have been effective in the project because the turnover rates of the cells can be easily tracked.

The team of researchers at HCI hope their findings will lead to better, more effective forms of treatment for pancreatic cancer. Chemotherapy is currently the most used method for battling the abnormal cells. But Rosenblatt said radiation kills good cells along with the bad cells. She hopes the new discovery will lead to more targeted therapy and possibly more clinical trial opportunities.

Kelton George, a freshman in chemical engineering, said he’s proud of the research the U is doing.

“It is amazing to be part of a university that is coming up with ways to rid the world of horrible diseases,” George said.

Rosenblatt, too, is excited that pancreatic cancer is getting more attention as a result of her work.

“It is fantastic that there are so many walks and charities for all kinds of cancer,” she said. “Unfortunately, people don’t hear about pancreatic cancer as often because there are not many survivors and those to advocate for the great need to find a cure.”

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