Flinders Medical Centre Foundation
Flinders Medical Centre Foundation



Pain Research is Flinders Gain

What Role Does Alcohol Play in Acute Pacreatitis



Pain Research is Flinders Gain
First Published: Southern Health News - May 2009


Research into the treatment of pancreatitits (inflammation of the pancreas) has led to a deal which could generate millions of dollars for Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University.

Flinders Medical Centre and Flinders University have signed a deal with biotechnology firm Xenome Ltd to licence research led by Flinders Medical Centre Chief Medical Scientist Professor Gino Saccone.

Professor Saccone and his collaborators have discovered that surface receptors in the central nervous and endocrine systems contribute to acute inflammation of the pancreas when activated by the peptide galanin.

Using animal models, the researchers have identified two peptides that block the activity of the galanin receptors and relieve the acute pancreatitits.

The deal with Xenome will aid the development of drugs to treat the condition which affects hundreds of thousands of people each year.

More than 20 percent of patients with acute pancreatitits develop life threatening severe acute pancreatitits.

Professor Saccone said there are no existing drugs which treat the condition, but the peptide-based treatment being developed at Flinders has the potential to treat the condition.

Xenome has extensive experience in peptide development. The company will take the peptide-based treatment to pre-clinical development stage.



What Role Does Alcohol Play In Acute Pancreatitis?
First Published: Investigator - February 2006
Updated: Pain Research is Flinders Gain


Research into the role that alcohol plays in acute pancreatitis is under investigation at Flinders Medical Centre.


Acute pancreatitis is caused by alcohol or gallstones and results in damage to the pancreas which becomes inflamed. This inflammation is part of a natural healing process that the body takes on to try to repair itself. If the attack is mild there will be a period of discomfort for the patient however the outcome is usually a positive one.


More severe cases, sometimes found within heavy drinkers, mean a much stronger defensive reaction takes place within the body. Due to this strong reaction healthy neighbouring organs can be damaged as the body creates an excess of immune system chemicals. If this occurs or a bacterial or fungal infection sets in the prognosis is usually poor and the recovery rate low.


Associate Professor Gino Saccone, Chief Medical Scientist in the department of Surgery at Flinders, and his team including research fellow Masahiko Kawamoto, are focusing on the effects alcohol has on the pancreas and a small valve called the Sphincter of Oddi, which regulates the flow of digestive fluids into the small bowel.


The team has found that when alcohol is absorbed through the stomach the flow of blood within the pancreas decreases and the Sphincter of Oddi function is compromised. This can cause damage within the pancreas due to insufficient oxygen reaching the tissue through the blood and a build up of pressure in the pancreas.


At this point in time no special treatment or therapy other than pain relief is available for sufferers of acute pancreatitis as all the steps in the disease process are not completely understood.


“The mechanisms that we are revealing are part of a complex series of events that happen within the body to cause acute pancreatitis. We must understand the whole group of events before a suitable treatment can be found,” says Prof Saccone.


A major finding made here at Flinders is the discovery of a nervous pathway that seems to be involved in causing the changes that take place within the pancreas and Sphincter of Oddi when alcohol is consumed.


The next step for the Flinders team will be to establish the characteristics of the nerves involved in the processes that contribute to acute pancreatitis so that a specific treatment can eventually be found.


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