Cancer of the pancreas is one of the most discouraging diagnoses that a person can receive. The cancer is difficult to detect, so many patients are diagnosed too late for surgical treatment. The majority die within a year of getting the bad news, and only 5 percent survive for 5 years.
Researchers now find that small pieces of genetic material called microRNAs might provide a preview of a tumor's aggressiveness and offer targets for combating the disease.
While the majority of genes supply blueprints for protein assembly, a few hundred contain the instructions for making microRNAs. Within cells, these molecules switch genes on or off.
The purpose of this regulatory function is still poorly understood. However, several studies have linked microRNAs to cancer (SN: 4/22/06, p. 254: Available to subscribers at RNA test might reveal early cancer, offer drug target; 6/11/05, p. 371: Cancer Link: MicroRNA grabs the spotlight