A doctor waits during surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. (June...

A doctor waits during surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. (June 26, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

In the battle against pancreatic cancer, every bit of medical progress is good news. This is one of the deadliest cancers of all.

A small but very important step was taken in July when the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas published findings about a potential path to early, noninvasive screening.

A protein called GPC1 was the highlight of the study. This protein is found in exosomes, byproducts of cancer cells found in the bloodstream. The most significant part of the study was that GPC1 was found in 190 of 190 pancreatic cancer patients, and in zero of 100 healthy patients. No false positives and no false negatives. A perfect score.

For Dr. Minsig Choi, director of outpatient medical oncology at the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, the study is promising. But he echoes the understandably hesitant scientific community when he calls for much more validation.

Dr. Raghu Kalluri, chairman of cancer biology at MD Anderson and senior author of its study, knows there's more work to be done, but he has the right solution: "Intelligent investing, which means investing in groups finding new drugs and new ideas."

But the National Institutes of Health predicts that next year, pancreatic cancer will get less than half the research funding of prostate cancer, despite the former killing at nearly double the rate. There is approximately $3,000 in research funding for every pancreatic cancer death compared with prostate cancer's $9,500.

While there is reason for skepticism, the study is promising and the public is hopeful. With so little known about such a lethal disease, the only solution is more research, and that means more financial support.

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