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NEW: OU Medical researchers make pancreatic cancer breakthrough

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- An important development in the fight against one of the deadliest cancers is giving OU researchers hope.

You're familiar with some of the famous faces who fell victim to pancreatic cancer.

Apple founder Steve Jobs, actors Patrick Swayze and Michael Landon, and Jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie.

Pancreatic cancer is a terrifying diagnoses because only five percent of patients are still living after five years of treatment.

But researchers at Stephenson Cancer Center at the OU Health Sciences Center announced Wednesday they have identified a protein molecule in pancreatic cancer - DCLK1 - that may be responsible for fueling tumors and spreading the disease.

With a new target, scientists could develop more effective drugs to attack it.

"We think that we're not just killing cells.  We may not even be killing cells," Stephenson Cancer Center Researcher Courtney Houchen, M.D. said Wednesday, "But we're blocking the processes that make the tumor do what it does.  That's why we're very excited, because this would be a different way of approaching cancers in general."

The risks of getting pancreatic cancer include family history, diabetes and smoking.

Houchen said, for an unknown reason, African-Americans have a 40 to 50 percent increased risk of contracting it.

Researchers will need funding to develop this new cancer-fighting strategy.