UH Researcher Discovers Susceptibility Genes for Pancreatic Cancer

University of Hawai’i Cancer Center. PC: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

A study published Wednesday by a University of Hawai’i Cancer Center researcher, Lang Wu, identified six novel susceptibility genes for pancreatic risk. Pancreatic cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer mortality in Hawai’i and the university says the study will help researchers implement risk assessment strategies to improve pancreatic cancer outcomes.

The study was published in Cancer Research by the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Our discovery of novel candidate susceptibility genes associated with pancreatic cancer will allow us to better understand the biology and genetics of this deadly malignancy, and help us to identify individuals at risk,” said Wu.

Pancreatic cancer represents one of the leading causes of cancer mortality in Hawaiʻi and in the US overall, with a five-year survival rate of only nine percent. From 2012–2016, data shows that pancreatic cancer incidence is increasing in males in the state of Hawaiʻi.

To investigate susceptibility genes for pancreatic cancer, Wu and collaborators developed comprehensive genetic models to predict gene expression levels across the human genome in normal pancreas tissue. Through using these models, along with data from 8,275 individuals diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 6,723 individuals who have not been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the researchers found a total of 13 candidate susceptibility genes.

Lang Wu. PC: University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

Seven of the 13 genes found were previously reported, confirming their associations with pancreatic cancer risk. The other six candidate susceptibility genes that were identified had not been previously reported to be associated with risk of pancreatic cancer.

Wu and his colleagues are now conducting studies to incorporate the newly identified genes along with other genetic and non-genetic factors into new risk prediction models for pancreatic cancer. Findings from these studies will help researchers to implement risk assessment strategies to improve pancreatic cancer outcomes.

“To reduce the disease burden, research is needed to better understand which factors cause it, which is currently largely unknown,” said Wu.

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