Detecting the genetic risk before disease onset for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer

It is still hardly possible to predict the genetic risk of developing pancreatic cancer whereas it is common for e.g. breast cancer. With the support of the Ministry of Economics Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and the European Union, Greifswald and Rostock scientists work intensively to develop a genetic test to predict the risk for pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis) and the rare but very serious pancreatic cancer.

Difficult diagnostic process

Pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer are often detected late or even too late. Patients mostly have to
undergo a precarious medical process for several years before being diagnosed correctly. Statistically, about 64 out of 100,000 people are being diagnosed each year with pancreatitis in Germany (approximately 50,000 to 60,000 patients), in some cases resulting in a tumor by the chronic inflammation with still a high lethal rate.

Reveal genetic causes

The complex interaction of various risks in the genetic background by using next generation sequencing methods is investigated in the research project. Biomarkers for acute and chronic pancreatitis as well as for pancreatic cancer are being developed for patients. Research results from DNA analysis of patients with pancreatic diseases are promptly incorporated in the development of accurate diagnostic tests in order to facilitate the early and reliable detection of genetic disease factors in the clinical routine. Physicians, patients and affected relatives will be enabled to decide on the right therapy and prevention measures by detecting a hereditary predisposition in an early stage of the disease.

Medical Background: What is chronic pancreatitis?

The pancreas is in the lower abdomen, roughly at the level of the navel, and is responsible for regulating the level of blood sugar by producing insulin and releasing it into the bloodstream. The pancreas also plays an important role in digestion in that it transfers digestive enzymes (pancreatic juice) to the small intestines. Physicians refer to chronic pancreatitis when a pancreas is permanently or repeatedly infected, causing disruptions in its vital properties. Alcohol is seen as one of the major causes for chronic pancreatitis, with the most common symptom being upper abdominal pain. Treatment includes medication, operations, and alterations of those lifestyle habits which are thought to trigger the disease.

Partners in this collaborative project are the Albrecht-Kossel-Institute at the Universitaetsmedizin Rostock, Clinic for Internal Medicine A at the Universitaetsmedizin Greifswald and Centogene.

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