Hyperinsulinemia in pancreatic cancer: A mechanism for nutritional and lifestyle risks?

  • Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, but it is also one of the least well understood. We cannot design an intelligent cure for a disease that we know so little about. In particular, the exact events that initiate pancreatic cancer and accelerate its progression remain unclear. A growing body of evidence indicates that lifestyle factors like diet and obesity are important risk factors for pancreatic cancer. It has been suggested that the elevated levels of insulin caused by high-fat, high-sugar diets might promote rapid growth of cells in the pancreas, an event that could contribute to the development of pancreatic cancer. Over the past 5 years, our research team has made important discoveries on the effects of insulin on a small subset of pancreas cells that are not associated with the most common forms of pancreatic cancer. We have also developed the first animal model where manipulation of insulin genes renders mice resistant to the effects of a high fat diet on elevated insulin levels. We now plan to leverage this new model and our expertise to better understand the effects of insulin on pancreatic cancer cells. The overall goal of the proposed research is to determine whether elevated insulin increases pancreatic cancer and to understand how insulin produces these effects. Given the alarming rise in the incidence of obesity and hyperinsulinemia, it is critical to know exactly how these lifestyle factors affect pancreatic cancer risk. Together, these studies have the potential to increase our understanding of this devastating disease.  Therefore, these investigations will improve our chances of finding effective treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Research focus :


James Johnson

Research center:

University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia


Amount of funding

2012-2013: $60,000
2013-2014: $60,000


Research program

Operating Grant
The operating grant is the principal means by which the Cancer Research Society supports research activities by a scientist or a team of scientists.

This grant is funded by the Environment Cancer FundTM which is dedicated to finding scientific evidence relating the risk of developing cancer to the impact of environmental factors, such as our lifestyle (eating habits, physical activity, etc.) and our working, leisure and living environments.

A warm thanks to Read for the Cure for their important financial contribution to the Environment Cancer FundTM.