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YOUR HEALTH: Mice could be a link to one of the deadliest cancers

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – It's a tough role reversal for retired anesthesiologist Inocencio Davila.

He's now a patient with pancreatic cancer, following a bout with renal cancer.

"Next thing you know, I started getting jaundice, that's when I started getting concerned," he explained.

"She said, 'Well you know what they say about painless jaundice' and I said I know, but I don't really want to hear that."

Pancreatic cancer causes the deaths of 95% of the people diagnosed with it.   Chemotherapy helps but is only able to extend survival for a few months.

Davila is now on an aggressive treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation to prolong his life.

"So, chemotherapies are getting better to improve those numbers, but we have a long way to go." said medical oncologist Dr. Sukeshi Arora of Mays Cancer Center at UT Health in San Antonio.

Enter researcher Bruno Doiron.

Doiron is developing a new technology that allows pancreatic tumors in mice to develop with the same traits as human pancreatic cancer.

"I use the mutation found in pancreatic cancer found in humans so that mimics more randomly what's happening in the cancer development," explained Dr. Doiron, UT Health biomedical researcher.

Doiron injects a modified virus into the mouse.   That virus delivers two human cancer genetic mutations into the mouse pancreas.
The human-like cancers that develop give researchers an effective way to test new drugs.

It's a finding that's applauded by patients like Davila.

"Without that how can we find a treatment for the cancer that we have?"

HOW IT WORKS:   The team is injecting a modified virus into the adult mouse pancreas.  The virus is a delivery vehicle for two pro-cancer molecules (called KrasG12D mutation and shRNA p53) that are present in human pancreatic tumors.  Upon injection, the virus permeates the pancreas with these pro-cancer factors.   The effect is contained; only the pancreas is altered by this molecular cocktail.   When the mice reach 28 to 30 weeks of age, tumors develop that resemble human pancreatic cancer.   This is a way to test new drugs more accurately. (Source: https://news.uthscsa.edu/injecting-gene-cocktail-into-mouse-pancreas-leads-to-humanlike-tumors/)

A U.S. patent is pending on the gene delivery technology developed by Doiron.

Obesity and diabetes are major risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

Researchers say the new technology can be used to examine this link.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.