July 23, 2024

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New Study Links Elevated Insulin Levels to Pancreatic Cancer

New Study Links Elevated Insulin Levels to Pancreatic Cancer

New Study Links Elevated Insulin Levels to Pancreatic Cancer

A new study has found a link between high blood insulin levels, commonly seen in individuals with obesity and type 2 diabetes, and pancreatic cancer.

Researchers suggest that their findings may open the door to new strategies for cancer prevention and targeted treatments to slow or prevent cancer progression.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) are known risk factors for pancreatic cancer, with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) being one of the most prevalent, aggressive, and deadly forms of pancreatic cancer. However, the mechanisms by which T2D and obesity contribute to PDAC have remained unclear.

Now, a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada has unveiled the role of insulin and its receptors in the development of pancreatic cancer.

One of the study’s corresponding authors, James Johnson, stated, “With the rapid increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes, we have seen a startling rise in pancreatic cancer rates. These findings help us understand how this situation is occurring and underscore the importance of maintaining insulin levels within a healthy range, which can be achieved through diet, exercise, and, in some cases, medication.”

The pancreas serves both exocrine and endocrine functions. Exocrine pancreatic cells synthesize, store, and secrete enzymes into the small intestine to aid in food digestion, while beta cells (endocrine) produce the hormone insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Insulin is thought to bind to its receptors on beta cells, stimulating the secretion of enzymes.

New Study Links Elevated Insulin Levels to Pancreatic Cancer

End-stage diabetes results from a combination of insulin ineffectiveness and deficiency, leading to insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, as the body secretes more hormones to lower elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). In the medical community, it is widely accepted that elevated levels of free fatty acids in obesity can lead to insulin resistance, which, in turn, results in hyperglycemia, leading to hyperinsulinemia.

Researchers used mouse models to investigate what changes occur within pancreatic acinar cells when animals experience hyperinsulinemia.

“We found that hyperinsulinemia directly leads to the development of pancreatic cancer by affecting insulin receptors in pancreatic acinar cells. The mechanism involves an increase in the secretion of digestive enzymes, leading to worsened pancreatic inflammation,” the researchers explained. They believe that this inflammation can promote the development of precancerous cells. Their findings may pave the way for new cancer prevention strategies and treatments targeting insulin receptors on pancreatic acinar cells.

Co-author Janel Kopp noted, “We hope that this work can change clinical practice by helping to promote lifestyle interventions to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer in the general population. This research may also pave the way for targeted therapies aimed at regulating insulin receptors to prevent or slow the progression of pancreatic cancer.”

Researchers also suggested that their findings might have implications for other cancers related to obesity and T2D, as elevated insulin levels could play a role in these cancers as well.

Johnson added, “Our colleagues in Toronto have already demonstrated a similar connection between insulin and breast cancer. In the future, we hope to determine whether and how excess insulin leads to other types of cancer caused by obesity and diabetes.”

This study was published in the journal “Cell Metabolism.”

New Study Links Elevated Insulin Levels to Pancreatic Cancer

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