The pancreas is a glandular organ located in the abdomen that plays an important role in exocrine and endocrine secretions. Exocrine secretion contributes about 200-80 ml of alkaline fluids and enzymes in a day, which is responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates, protein and fats. However, when these juices get activated before reaching the target organs, it results in the digestion of its own pancreatic cells, thereby leading to pancreatitis. Perhaps it may predispose anyone to pancreatic cancer.
Researchers from the Salk Institute have identified a protein called estrogen-related receptor gamma (ERR?) that helps in preventing autodigestion of the pancreas. For instance, this protein is invariably reduced in case of pancreatitis and gives us a hint in alleviating the condition in the modern era.
Initial research work on mice has shown the protein ERR? helps in the release of insulin from beta-pancreatic cells. Mice devoid of this protein resulted in severe pancreatitis. ERR? function in pancreatic acinar cells remains unclear and is thought to control mitochondria of acinar cells. In the absence of ERR?, acinar cell function was impaired, possibly due to energy metabolism that leads to improper activation of digestive enzymes. Besides, it can even provoke cellular changes, as in the case of pancreatic cancer.
Scientists then correlated the lab result with respect to human pancreatitis by collecting pancreatic biopsies from normal and affected cells. As a result, they found lower levels of ERR? in affected cells. Studies have revealed that 83 other genes are directly regulated by ERR?, and so it can potentially become the drug target in the future. Further studies are required to identify several pathways to increase the level of protein to tackle pancreatitis and its cancer.