Protein shields pancreas from alcohol

CARDIFF U. (UK) — A protein protects the pancreas against the effects of alcohol and may go as far as helping reduce the development of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of death from cancer—only three percent of patients survive beyond five years.

When the protein, calmodulin, is missing from cells in the pancreas, alcohol has a greater toxic effect as a chain reaction causing cells to self-destruct speeds up, leading to pancreatitis and significantly increasing the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

For the new study, researchers found that found that calmodulin protects pancreatic cells against alcohol’s toxic effects when  activated by another small protein, CALP-3.

“There is still much uncertainty about how alcohol damages cells in the body. However, we have found a new and unexpected way that pancreatic cells protect themselves,” says Ole Petersen, professor of biosciences at Cardiff University.

“We suggest that activation of the calmodulin protein protects against the development of pancreatitis. There is a strong correlation between alcohol intake and incidence of pancreatitis, and we hope that our new findings will eventually lead to the development of drugs to combat this. This is a key step forward.”

The research is reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is a really important finding. Acute pancreatitis, which is currently untreatable, remains an important cause of death,” says John Iredale, professor at the University of Edinburgh.

“It is important also to recognize that this disabling disease may result from binge drinking,”

Researchers from the University of Liverpool, the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan and the Japanese Science and Technology Agency contributed to the study that was funded by the Medical Research Council.

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