Vitamin D for pancreatic cancer

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Vitamin D has been known for promoting strong bones, regulating blood pressure and even improving one's mood. Could it be the key to fighting one of the most deadly cancers? U.S. researchers are testing the impact of adding vitamin D to the treatment regimen for some pancreatic cancer patients.

Daryl Fair, 76, retired from teaching American politics to travel and spend time with family. Earlier this year, doctors treating him for pneumonia discovered something unexpected.

Fair told ABC30, "It was a small tumor on the head of the pancreas."

Doctors caught Fair's cancer very early, unusual for pancreatic cancer. Patients often have no early symptoms. Because he caught it early, Fair qualified for a clinical trial, testing the impact of vitamin D on treatment.

Jeffrey Drebin, MD, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania explained, "This is not vitamin D that you can get at the drug store."

Researchers found that this potent vitamin D inactivates the body's cells, called stromal cells that protect and feed pancreatic tumors.

"Vitamin D acts on these cells to make them quiescent," Dr. Drebin told ABC30.

If the stromal cells aren't working, researchers say chemotherapy drugs will reach the tumors and hopefully, wipe out the cancer. For now, patients are receiving vitamin D three times a week.

Peter O'Dwyer, MD, Professor of Medicine at Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania told ABC30, "To get the high levels that we think we need within the tumor, we're giving it as an IV in the initial trial of this."

Fair explained, "I think studies like this are the things that are eventually going to make cancer readily curable."

And bring hope to patients facing a tough battle.

Researchers say they would like to develop an oral form of the synthetic vitamin D, so patients in future trials could have the treatment at home. They say the results of this trial may also impact treatment for other stubborn tumors. Doctors Drebin and O'Dwyer are part of a team of collaborators being funded by "Stand Up To Cancer."

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Steve Graff

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