--This post is written by Kerri Kaplan, executive director of The Lustgarten Foundation
I’m often asked about new developments in the research landscape of pancreatic cancer, the nation’s most lethal cancer. As executive director of The Lustgarten Foundation, the nation’s largest non-profit foundation dedicated to funding pancreatic cancer research, I have seen tremendous progress made in the fight against this disease. The most encouraging transformation I have witnessed in my seven years at the Foundation is the rapid growth of collaboration among our highly motivated researchers and scientists, working together to find a cure.
When The Lustgarten Foundation was first formed in 1998, it was surprisingly difficult to attract researchers interested in studying pancreatic cancer since only a handful worked on studies related to the disease. A lack of funding and a lack of knowledge were also contributing factors. Thankfully that has changed, and today, there are more than 1,000 researchers who dedicate their careers to pancreatic cancer research.
Collaboration has always been part of the Foundation’s mandate, and we work to ensure that these researchers no longer operate in ‘silos,’ separate and alone. We recognize that in order to advance our understanding of pancreatic cancer, cooperating on research is essential.
Our partnerships with many leading organizations, foundations and institutions have helped to accelerate the rate of research discovery. In 2010, we established the Pancreatic Cancer Research Consortium, which comprises six world-renowned medical institutions (including Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine), and is designed to advance the most promising research initiatives aimed at ultimately finding a cure. Another consortium member is Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), with which we partnered again last year to establish The Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory. The laboratory focuses exclusively on pancreatic cancer research, with initial studies centered on early detection, drug development and drug delivery. The Consortium and dedicated pancreatic cancer research lab represent two significant steps forward in collaborative research.
We also are witnessing encouraging results through other collaborative efforts. For example, our long-term partnership with the National Cancer Institute and Johns Hopkins’s Cancer of the Pancreas Screening program [CAPS] led by Dr. Marcia Canto, resulted in important findings in the area of early detection. This multi-year collaboration of medical centers provided patients who have an inherited predisposition for pancreatic cancer with greater access to screenings. Many more researchers were able to tap into the data from this national study and they learned that monitoring in high-risk families using endoscopic ultrasound was one of the best options available to test for this disease and it could save lives.
We also look forward to the results of our collaboration with the Cancer Research Institute, to co-sponsor a new clinical trial led by Dr. Carl June and Dr. Gregory Beatty at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The trial focuses on a new way to treat pancreatic cancer by altering and training a patient's immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells. A first in the pancreatic cancer research world, this trial would not have happened without shared funding and scientific expertise.
Similarly, we are now collaborating with Stand Up to Cancer, so its Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team can extend important research initiatives into clinical trials, which will include investigating a variety of drug combinations for pancreatic cancer patients to improve treatment options.
Research offers hope that, one day, early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer will require nothing more than a routine blood test, and that better treatments can be found, eventually leading to a cure. Working together, we move closer to realizing that goal every day.
Kerri Kaplan is executive director of The Lustgarten Foundation, the nation’s largest non-profit foundation dedicated to funding pancreatic cancer research. The Foundation has played a critical role in the evolution of pancreatic cancer research since its inception in 1998, contributing more than $65 million to more than 175 research projects at more than 50 medical and research centers worldwide. Every dollar donated to The Lustgarten Foundation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research because Cablevision, a leading media and telecommunications company, underwrites all of the Foundation’s administrative costs. The Lustgarten Foundation and Cablevision are also partners in the curePC public awareness campaign. For more information, visit www.curePC.org.