Tamoxifen has been used for many years in the treatment of a common type of breast cancer, as it prevents estrogen production, which promotes tumor growth. Now, research shows that the drug can change the physical environment for the mutated cells, namely scar tissue development, inflammation and immune responses, all key markers of pancreatic cancer.
“Cancer research tends to study the genetic influences on specific cancers, whereas our approach focuses on the physical factors in the environment that affect the growth and spread of tumours. By studying the environment rather than the genes involved in one cancer, we can reveal important traits common to all cancers, and help to identify more broad-spectrum treatments”, noted Dr. Armando del Río Hernández, Professor of Bioengineering at Imperial College London.
It seems that Tamoxifen has the ability to inhibit pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) which stiffen the tissue by applying physical forces and remodeling the tissue architecture. Furthermore, it also regulates the immune response and prevents the invasion and dissemination of cancer cells.
Pancreatic tumors don’t get much oxygen and have established a protective mechanism – when levels drop, the cells release molecules called hypoxia-inducible factors (HIF), allowing the disease to survive. The drug can restrict HIF formation, making cancer cells vulnerable to low oxygen conditions and likely to die.
Over the last four decades, survival rates have not significantly improved, less than one percent of sufferers living past 10 or more years. There is a clear need for more effective solutions and the work done by Dr. del Río Hernández could lead to advancements and better overall care for patients.