Vitamin D Derivative Helps Destroy Pancreatic Tumors


Ron: Our latest work describes the discovery
that the new formulation of the widely used molecule, vitamin D, is able to interact and
unlock a new pathway for the treatment and, potentially, the cure of pancreatic cancer. Mara: So when we look at pancreatic cancer
under the microscope, we see a combination of cancer cells, themselves, and a dramatic
wound healing response that surrounds it. We discovered vitamin D and synthetic vitamin
D analogs that were able to crank down this wound healing response, and found out that
by treating with vitamin D analog plus chemotherapy, we were able to augment the effects compared
to chemotherapy alone. Michael: Vitamin D itself is not attacking
the cancer cells, it’s changing the environment to a more favorable setting for the chemotherapy
drugs to work. Ron: You cannot activate this with the normal
vitamin D that you would take in a supplement or in fish oil, but rather a special form
that we deliver directly into the person and allow the tumor to be exposed. One way you
can think about it is that the tumor is like money locked inside a bank vault. You can’t
get to it unless you know the code. The therapy that we developed is not to the tumor inside
the vault, it’s to the code that unlocks the door that allows, then, the chemotherapy to
go in and cure the tumor. Part of this work emerged out of working with
Stand Up To Cancer, and with that alliance, we’ve been able to not only make the new discoveries,
but actually transition this therapy into patients. Michael: This study has gone straight into
a clinical trial. We rapidly have gone to a certain idea in the lab that’s gone straight
into the clinical setting, and we hope from here, we will look at other cancers that are
fibrotic. Mara: The cells that we found in the pancreas
that respond to vitamin D have cousins in other tissues, like the liver, the kidney,
and the colon, and so we’re interested in whether the response we see in pancreas might
be relevant in other tumor types, as well. Ron: This is a new way to attack cancers and
it opens up an entirely new opportunity for treatment. In the end, this is about the patient.
We’re doing science to both understand, but also to give hope. The science starts here
at the Salk with asking the most fundamental questions. That in turn yields to fundamental
answers, and that in turn yields new ways to treat the disease.

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