Mayo Clinic researchers in Florida say they've identified how chronic inflammation of the pancreas reprograms some cells and makes them more susceptible to cancerous mutations.
Some white blood cells that respond to the inflammation drive the transformation of the damaged cells, rather than fix the problem, said Peter Storz, a Mayo biochemist and lead author of the study. "This process is believed to be an initial step leading to pancreatic cancer."
His team also found that the process was reversible in laboratory mice. The discovery doesn't explain why the cells change in response to inflammation. But Storz said he hopes it will inform research into the progression of pancreatic cancer in humans someday.
"We hope that at some point we can either understand that mechanism better to develop early detection methods, or that we can use the inhibitors, which work in mice, some day in humans," he said.
Chronic inflammation of the pancreas can be caused by smoking or excessive alcohol use. Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, when it has spread to other parts of the body and is much more difficult to treat.
The Mayo study is published online in The Journal of Cell Biology.