Map of Pancreatica Walks and Runs

Momordica Charantia (Bitter Melon) Juice Shows Promise with Pancreatic Cancer Cells and in Mice

Researchers from the University of California at San Diego have published a recent study in the journal Carcinogenesis that showed that Bitter Melon Juice (BMJ) caused cell death in four lines of pancreatic cancer cells, and appeared to inhibit pancreatic cancer tumor activity in mice.

The fruit of the vine Momordica Charantia is called by many names: bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash, goya, and karavella are but a few of these.  It is found widely in Asia, Africa and in the Caribbean.  And as the names implies it is perhaps the bitterest of fruits.  Bitter melon is used as an ingredient in specialty cooking in many parts of the world.

Also Bitter melon has been studied in several medical conditions and been found to inhibit breast cancer cells, function as an anti-malarial agent, generally be antibiotic, oppose nematodes (parasitic worms), contain substances which may reduce diabetes mellitus, and generally has been used for many purposes of folk medicine.  The seeds of the fruit are reported to be toxic for children; and the fruit is contraindicated in pregnancy.

 This study is preliminary, and the results need to be validated and further explored.  Pancreatica does not particularly endorse the use of this agent, but we do try to include scientific studies on alternative treatments whenever possible

bitter melon

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Dale O’Brien, MD

Phase 2 Results of Gemcitabine and Monoclonal Antibody for Advanced Pancreatic Cancer

It’s hard to keep up with company changes in the biotech world, but a recent published study in the Annals of Oncology, the official journal of the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) includes highly intriguing results of an unusual combination for advanced pancreatic cancer of gemcitabine and the fully human monoclonal antibody (Mab) AGS-1C4D4.

This particular Mab has been developed by Agensys, Inc., which is an affiliate of Astellas Pharma Inc. (of Japan) and which also now includes the company OSI Pharmaceutical in their fold – that has given us Tarceva, one of the few drugs to be approved by the U.S. FDA (in combination with gemcitabine) for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

In any case, the researchers of the study in question were from worldwide institutions, as anchored by M Hildago, published under the Dana-Farber (Harvard) Cancer Institute, involved ECOG institutions in the United States, and also included Pancreatica Science Board member, Eileen O’Reilly, MD of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

They looked at 196 chemo naïve patients with advanced pancreatic cancer who were randomly assigned to receive either gemcitabine alone (63 patients) or the combination of gemcitabine and AGS-1C4D4 (133 patients).   At six months the median survival rate was 57.1% in the gemcitabine arm of the trial, and was 79.5% in the combination arm.

As the results of this clinical trial for metastatic pancreatic cancer are encouraging, we must assume that further studies with this gemcitabine plus monoclonal antibody treatment regimen will be forthcoming.

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Dale O’Brien, MD

MicroRNA plus CA19-9 as a Diagnostic Marker for Pancreatic Cancer?

The search for a screening or diagnostic marker in pancreatic cancer is paramount. If the disease could be found earlier, it is likely that serious inroads could be made into improved survival advantage for patients.

Wang and associates at Fudan University in Shanghai, China published an intriguing article in April’s edition of the Journal of Cancer Prevention Research which investigated microRNA patterns in the peripheral mononuclear blood cells of healthy patients, those with benign pancreatic disease, and those with pancreatic cancer.  They found that miR-27a-3p levels in these cells could differentiate patients with benign pancreatic disease from those with pancreatic cancer.

When the researchers added CA19-9 levels to those of miR-27a-3p, they found that the accuracy of this putative diagnostic test increased to a very satisfactory sensitivity of 85.3% with a specificity of 81.6%.

A very interesting aspect of the study is that this was found in peripheral blood cells – thus giving easy access through a simple blood draw to diagnostic results.

These are early days for the role of MicroRNA in the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, but the results of this intriguing study should serve to increase additional research and confirmatory study.

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Dale O’Brien, MD

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