Renalase, a protein that researchers have found is overexpressed in pancreatic cancer, may be a new key to treating the disease. The findings were reported in Scientific Reports.

Although it’s rare, pancreatic cancer is usually deadly: fewer than 5% of patients live more than five years after diagnosis. It’s difficult to detect and often only diagnosed in later stages. Pancreatic cancer is also resistant to many therapies.

The new study found that pancreatic cancer cells express high levels of renalase, and the more a tumor expresses, the lower the rate of survival. However, in mouse models, using antibodies and other agents to silence renalase stopped tumor growth: blocking the protein interrupted the tumor cell cycle and cause apoptosis.

The researchers have found renalase expression in other cancers, including melanoma, and say they believe the protein could play a role in other cancers. Additional studies are warranted.