If a person is found with extremely high levels of specific amino acids in his bloodstream, chances are, he has pancreatic cancer, says a recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Broad Institute, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The scientists found that people with surging “branched chain amino acids” have higher possibility of getting diagnosed with the disease in one to 10 years.

“Pancreatic cancer, even at its very earliest stages, causes breakdown of body protein and deregulated metabolism,” Matthew Vander Heiden, who is among the senior authors of the study, an associate professor of biology and member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research of the MIT, says in a statement.

“We found that higher levels of branched chain amino acids were present in people who went on to develop pancreatic cancer compared to those who did not develop the disease,” says fellow senior author Brian Wolpin.

He adds that these results led them to assume that such increase in the said amino acids in the body is because of the manifestation of premature pancreatic tumor.

The collaborative study examined blood samples coming from 1,500 individuals who participated in the long-term studies. The samples examined and compared came from people with pancreatic cancer and from people who don’t have the disease.

Brian Wolpin, who is also a clinical epidemiologist and a medical oncology assistant professor at Dana-Farber, collected the blood samples that came from various studies on public health.

Some patients in the research were diagnosed with the disease a year after blood samples were taken. Others, meanwhile, were diagnosed after two, five, or 10 years.

“What we found was that this really interesting signature fell out as predicting pancreatic cancer diagnosis, which was elevation in these three branched chain amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine,” says Vander Heiden.

He says they used mouse models in the said study. The mice were programmed genetically to get pancreatic cancer.

Professor David Tuveson, from Cancer Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory says the scientists’ findings are essential in studying this specific type of cancer.

“It really opens a window of possibility for labs to try to determine the mechanism of this metabolic breakdown,” he says.

The scientists are currently furthering their investigation on the interesting discovery of the breakdown of protein and its effects on pancreatic cancer, as well as looking into the link between breakdown of protein and a disease called cachexia occurring in the later stages of said cancer, among others.

Vander Heiden states that whatever this means for patient’s health and for the tumor is still unclear. Regardless of questions remained unanswered, they believe the results of their study could provide new perspectives in terms of creating early diagnostics for the said cancer that takes down around 40,000 Americans yearly.

The study, published in the Nature Medicine journal, received funding from Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and Lustgarten Foundation.

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