A new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Medicine reveals a direct link between high insulin levels, common among patients with obesity and Type 2 diabetes, and pancreatic cancer.
The study, published in Cell Metabolism, provides one of the first detailed explanations of why people with obesity and Type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of pancreatic cancer. The research demonstrates that excessive insulin levels overstimulate pancreatic acinar cells, which produce digestive juices. This overstimulation leads to inflammation that converts these cells into precancerous cells.
The study focused on pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most prevalent pancreatic cancer, and one that is highly aggressive with a five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent. The incidence of pancreatic cancer is on the rise. By 2030, PDAC is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths.
While insulin is widely recognized for its role in regulating blood sugar levels, the study underscores its importance in pancreatic acinar cells. The findings show that insulin supports the physiological function of these cells in producing digestive enzymes that break down fat-rich foods, but at high levels, its increased action can inadvertently foster pancreatic inflammation and the development of precancerous cells.
In collaboration with researchers at BC Cancer and the Pancreas Centre BC, the team has initiated a clinical trial to help patients diagnosed with PDAC control their blood sugar and circulating insulin levels with the help of an endocrinologist.