University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Take On Cancer

Take On Cancer is what we do at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. In a world where 1 in 2.5 people will hear "it's cancer," we want to make sure that you are able to take on cancer too.

Knowledge is everything - stay engaged, informed and prepared.

What makes pancreatic cancer tumors grow?

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A metabolic cross-talk pathway between cancer and noncancer cells in pancreatic tumors delivers an alternative nutrient to the cancer cells, facilitating tumor growth.

Inside a pancreatic tumor is a hostile environment. Cancer cells are choked off from the blood vessels, blocking access to oxygen and nutrients.

“In principle, you would not expect cells to be able to survive under these circumstances, but in fact they thrive. They are highly adaptable and find ways to cope in this harsh environment,” says Costas Lyssiotis, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and medicine at the University of Michigan.

His team has discovered one key to how this happens. It’s a metabolic cross talk in which cancer cells call out for nutrients, and nearby normal cells in the pancreas, called pancreatic stellate cells, feed the cancer. The food, in this case, is the amino acid alanine. Their study is published in Nature.


Continue learning about the processes that make pancreatic cancer tumors grow.

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