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Understanding how we could target pancreatic cancer's Achille's heel

Researcher
Dr Miriam Martini
Country
Research Institute
Universita degli Studi di Torino, Torino, Italy
Cancer types
Pancreatic cancer
Dr Miriam Martini

Aim of the research

Dr Miriam Martini and her team aim to better understand how the loss of a protein called PI3K-C2Y could make pancreatic cancers more vulnerable to certain treatments.

Meet the scientist

In her free-time, Dr Miriam Martini is an enthusiastic dancer. She has danced since she was 6 years old and it helps her to wind down and clear her head after a long day at the lab. She says: “Dance taught me to be humble, to be hardworking and don’t give up easily”.

She also is a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkiens saga and the Harry Potter series, a passion that she shares with her postdoc Maria Chiara.

More about the research project

Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer we know surprisingly little about. Unfortunately, it is also notoriously difficult to treat. This is in part because pancreatic tumours are surrounded by a kind of tough matrix – called the stroma – which contains very few blood vessels. Because of this it is difficult for anything, including nutrients and drugs, to get to the tumour. As a result, pancreatic cancer cells need to rewire the way in which they use energy to support cancer growth and progression.

These changes in energy use provide a potential target for therapy. A protein called PI3K-C2Y is one of those potential targets. Only recently discovered, it turns out that this protein plays an important role in pancreatic cancer. In mice and humans, the loss of PI3K-C2Y comes hand in hand with a poor prognosis and increased tumour growth. The ability of these tumours to grow faster seems to be connected with changes in the way the cancer cells use energy. But this also could make these low PI3K-C2Y tumours more sensitive to certain drugs. Dr Miriam Martini and her team are now studying why cancer cells with reduced PI3K-C2Y have a growth advantage. They hope that reduced PI3K-C2Y creates weaknesses in the cancer that can be used to tailor more effective therapies. 

Without discovery research, there would be no applied research. Without innovation, there would be no possibilities to develop new therapeutic strategies to fight cancer.