Pancreatic cancer is notoriously deadly, killing some 95 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis. Actor Patrick Swayze died less than two years after he was diagnosed with the invasive disease. A pair of new studies examines the genetic history of pancreatic cancer, and one reports evidence that its evolution in the body might be a lengthy process, renewing hope for earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments.
As some scientists have used genetic sequencing to peer back into human evolutionary and migratory history, others are using the technology to trace the development and movement of cancer cells in the body. A team of researchers, led by Shinichi Yachida, The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins Medicine, was able to capture cancer cells from the tissues of various parts of the body in seven pancreatic patients shortly after their death and sequence the cells’ DNA.The second group of researchers also used genetic sequencing to trace particular shifts in the pancreatic cancer genome. Their team, led by Peter Campbell of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K., found that the disease is rather genetically unstable, racking up many chromosomal rearrangements as it progresses—both in the primary tumor and in other sites around the body.