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Scientists Move Closer to First Pancreatitis Treatment

Compound prevents self-digestion of pancreatic cells (July 23)

For the first time, scientists have provided proof of principle for a drug-based treatment of acute pancreatitis — a disease for which currently there is no treatment.

Tests conducted by researchers at the Cardiff University School of Biosciences in the U.K., using an existing calcium channel-blocking compound developed by GlaxoSmithKline, have succeeded in markedly reducing the flow of calcium into isolated pancreatic cells and stopping the root cause of the disease in its tracks.

The new findings were published in the U.S. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The aim of the research was to block excessive calcium entry caused by agents inducing pancreatitis and then test whether this would protect the pancreatic cells from self-digestion and death,” explains senior author Professor Ole Petersen.

“Our research shows that the calcium channel-inhibiting compound offers unique and effective protection against inappropriate activation inside the cells of digestive enzymes, which would cannibalize the pancreas and the surrounding tissue.”

Previous research by Petersen and his colleagues determined that processes inside isolated pancreatic cells leading to pancreatitis can be induced by the combination of alcohol and fat.

When alcohol and fatty acids mix inside the pancreas, a massive release of calcium stored inside the pancreatic cells is triggered. The emptying of these calcium stores sets in motion the opening of special channels in the cell membrane that allow calcium to enter the cells.

The intrusion of this calcium causes activation of normally inactive digestive enzymes inside the cells, which in turn start digesting the pancreas.

Source: Cardiff University; July 23, 2013.

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