Karmanos gets $352k grant for pancreatic cancer research

DETROIT—The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute recently received a $352,437 grant from the U CAN-CER VIVE Foundation to help fund a pancreatic cancer research study. The outcomes of this study will help define new standards of care for patients undergoing chemotherapy for this disease.

Asfar Azmi, associate professor of the department of oncology, leader of the molecular therapeutics research program, and director of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Initiative at Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine (WSU SOM), and M. Najeeb Al Hallak, M.D., MS, medical oncologist, member of the gastrointestinal neuroendocrine multidisciplinary team at Karmanos and assistant professor in the Department of Oncology at WSU SOM, are leading a pilot study titled, “A pilot study of serial blood profiling for micro-RNA expression signature to Gemcitabine/Nab-Paclitaxel in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma patients.”

“There are limited, effective therapies for this disease, and more importantly, there are no strategies to date to tell us early on if a treatment is working or not,” Azmi said. “In our study, we collect blood from the patient during the course of chemotherapy treatment and analyze the blood for certain markers. If those markers predict response or resistance to chemotherapy, we will then have new knowledge to help produce scientific advances for the best treatment option for those faced with this disease.”

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and the state of Michigan is among the states with higher rates of pancreatic cancer diagnoses. Pancreatic cancer is considered incurable in the majority of patients due to advanced stage at diagnosis, and often once diagnosed, the only treatment option is chemotherapy.

“It will be a groundbreaking research finding if we are able to identify that microRNA signature in the blood that tells us ‘this chemotherapy is the best treatment option for the patient,’ and avoid ineffective treatments that allow a patient’s symptoms to worsen and the cancer to spread,” said  Al Hallak. “This grant will significantly help improve testing quality and even expand the testing beyond just the microRNA to find other signatures for those patients, which can even influence future research into new drug therapies for pancreatic cancer treatment.”

Kelley LaFontaine, co-founder of the U CAN-CER VIVE Foundation, said the organization has “focused a great deal of our cancer grant funding towards research tackling pediatric cancers, as well as those with a very low survival rate. This research specifically looks at pancreatic cancer, which in addition to having a low survival rate, is also underfunded. Our hope at U CAN-CER VIVE is this grant funding will provide the doctors and researchers with the necessary support to fulfill their mission and hopefully ultimately discover findings that raise the quality of life and outlook for those afflicted with this disease.”

Currently, there are 10 patients enrolled in the pilot study. The U CAN-CER VIVE grant makes it possible to double the number of participants to 20

“There is so much more to learn and understand about cancer and cancer treatments, and at Karmanos, it’s a team effort,” said Gerald Bepler, president and CEO of Karmanos Cancer Institute. “The collaborative relationship between researchers and physicians in this study, and funding like the U CAN-CER VIVE grant help to advance our ability to give patients their best advantages in surviving a cancer diagnosis and living longer.”

More at www.karmanos.org.

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