Development of a screening assay for inhibitors of inflammation useful against pancreatic cancer
Abstract: Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most lethal cancer and ranks as the eighth most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. This is due to its rapid proliferation, strong metastatic potential and its delayed detection. One major risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer is the aggressive inflammatory disease chronic pancreatitis. Chronic inflammation frequently precedes the development of certain pancreatic cancers. Inflammation is a protective and necessary process by which the body can alert the immune system of the existence of a wound or infection and mount an immune response to remove the harmful stimuli and start wound healing. The cross-talking of cells of the immune system and infected cells happens through cytokines, soluble proteins that activate and recruit other immune cells to increase the system’s response to the pathogen. Failure to resolve the injury can result in persistent cytokine production that in turn allows a cell that is damaged or altered to survive when in normal conditions it would be killed. Inflammation is thought to create a microenvironment that facilitates the initiation and/or growth of pancreatic cancer cells. Cytokines use two important kinases for their signaling: Janus Kinases (JAKs) and Signal Transducers and Activators of Transcription (STATs). The JAKs are activated upon the binding of cytokines to their corresponding receptors. When activated, the JAKs activate STATs through tyrosine phosphorylation. The STATs transduce signals to the nucleus of the cells to induce expression of critical genes essential in normal physiological cellular events such as differentiation, proliferation, cell survival, apoptosis and angiogenesis. STAT3 (a member of the STAT family) is constitutively activated in some pancreatic cancers, promoting cell cycle progression, cellular transformations and preventing apoptosis. Therefore, STAT3 is a promising target for cancer treatment. Novel therapies that inhibit STAT3 activity in cancers are urgently needed. Natural products are a very good resource for the discovery of new drugs against pancreatic cancer. Covering more than 70% of the Earths surface, The Ocean is an excellent source of bioactive natural products. Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute’s Center for Marine Biomedical and Biotechnology Research (HBOI-CMBBR) situated in Florida, aims to find new marine natural products useful in disease prevention and drug therapy. Their current focus is to look for novel treatments for preventing both the formation of new pancreatic tumors and the metastasis of existing tumors. The hypothesis of this degree project was that novel inhibitors of STAT3 useful in the treatment of pancreatitis and/or pancreatic cancer could be found from marine-natural products. The first specific aim of this degree project was to set up an assay to identify bioactive marine natural products as inhibitors of inflammation. Furthermore the assay was validated using a commercially available inhibitor of inflammation (Cucurbitacin I). The last aim was to further validate the assay by screening pure compounds and peak library material from the HBOI marine specimen collection. At the end of the experimentation time, the assay still was not set-up as there were difficulties in proper cell culture techniques and the cell line did not respond as advertised. While the results were not as expected, the work performed resulted in familiarization with research laboratory practices and increased laboratory skills. Moreover, the results from the assays point to future directions to accomplish this project.
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