Research Article

The glycan CA19-9 promotes pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer in mice

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Science  21 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6446, pp. 1156-1162
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw3145

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Sweet bystander becomes a villain

Patients with pancreatic cancer often have elevated blood levels of CA19-9, a carbohydrate antigen present on many proteins. CA19-9 is thus commonly used as a biomarker for diagnosing and monitoring disease progression. In a study of mice, Engle et al. found that CA19-9 may be more than an innocent bystander that marks the presence of pancreatic disease; it may play a causal role in disease (see the Perspective by Halbrook and Crawford). Transgenic mice expressing the human enzymes that add CA19-9 to proteins developed severe pancreatitis that could be reversed by treatment with CA19-9 antibodies. When the transgenic mice also harbored a Kras oncogene, they went on to develop pancreatic cancer. These unexpected observations suggest new avenues for the treatment of pancreatic disease.

Science, this issue p. 1156; see also p. 1132