For the first time, scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have been able to demonstrate a possible link between high insulin production and pancreatic cancer.
The scientists lowered insulin levels in mice that were predisposed to developing pancreatic cancer. They found that these lower insulin levels protected the mice from developing the cancer.
The study was published in Cell Metabolism.
The preliminary findings have been encouraging and hold promise for prevention and early detection of pancreatic cancer in human beings.
Senior study co-author Dr. James Johnson said, “Pancreatic cancer can be tricky to detect and is too often diagnosed at a late stage, making it one of the deadliest cancers. The five-year-survival rate is less than five percent, and incidences of the disease are increasing alongside obesity.”
Hyperinsulinemia is a condition in which the body secrete more insulin than needed to regulate blood sugar levels. It is quite common in more than one-third of obese adults, which can be managed by dietary changes and lifestyle factors.
Another co-author Janel Kopp said, “The link between hyperinsulinemia has actually been found across multiple cancers, including breast cancer, but pancreatic cancer has the strongest link. Our experiment is the first to directly test that hypothesis, in any cancer, in any animal model.”
“No matter whether you look at the entire pancreas, lesions or tumors, less insulin meant reduced beginnings of cancer in the pancreas,” said Dr. Johnson.
Noting they used the same mutation as 90 percent of pancreatic cancers in people, Kopp said, “We don’t see a reason why this wouldn’t be generalizable to other cancers. Our mouse models are extremely relevant to people.” The scientists also would like to investigate whether reducing excess insulin secreted by the body could positively affect later stages of pancreatic cancer. They would be teaming up with colleagues at BC Cancer, a part of the Provincial Health Services Authority in British Columbia, on human clinical trials.