The Engle Laboratory focuses on the early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with the annual mortality rate closely following the annual incidence. Because there is no early detection test, patients are often diagnosed at late stages and already possess widespread metastatic disease, shortening the amount of time in which treatment can occur. Most therapies are ineffective, and surgical removal of the tumor is considered the only cure. The challenge of pancreatic cancer consists of finding better ways to both detect and treat this disease.
The Engle Lab is interested in the development of early detection methods and treatment of pancreatic cancer using organoids and mouse models. These models closely replicate the human condition and create better representations of what actually happens in patients, a past challenge in traditional research approaches.
The organoid models employ stem-cell techniques to create more accurate models of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, as well as biochemistry methodology to identify biomarkers that unambiguously differentiate between pancreatic cancer and other inflammatory conditions.
Pancreatitis is a type of pancreatic inflammation that results in more than 275,000 hospital admissions each year in the United States and is lethal in 10 percent of cases. Additionally, pancreatitis is a major risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer. More research into pancreatitis and how it contributes to tumor formation may uncover treatment targets. A characteristic of pancreatic cancer involves scar-like tissue, which can look like the benign inflammation characterized by pancreatitis. There is no way to distinguish between pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. However, Dr. Engle discovered that elevated levels of the tumor marker CA19-9 causes pancreatitis in mouse models. In addition, blocking CA19-9 dramatically reduced the severity of pancreatitis in these mouse models.
Further investigation is required to understand ways through which CA19-9 elevation promotes pancreatitis and pancreatic tumor formation. These studies will serve as the basis for future pre-clinical and clinical interventional trials using agents that target CA19-9, and the proteins and pathways it activates.