Vitamin D could make pancreatic cancer treatment more effective, by reprogramming cells that bolster tumour growth.

Pancreatic cancer is particularly deadly, partly because of cells called pancreatic stellate cells, which foster an environment that favours the growth of tumours and resists chemotherapy. Ronald Evans and Michael Downes of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, and their colleagues found that the vitamin D receptor is expressed in human pancreatic tumours. Activation of the receptor markedly altered gene expression in pancreatic stellate cells, shifting them to a quiescent state in which they could not support tumours as well.

As a result, treating mice bearing pancreatic tumours with a vitamin D analogue and chemotherapy slowed tumour growth and increased survival compared with chemotherapy alone.

Cell 159, 80–93 (2014)