Distinguished Scholar Award Recipients
David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D.Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Funding: $5 million over 5 years (2013-2017) | Project: Pancreatic cancer biology and therapy
Overview: As science advances, new and improved models for studying pancreatic cancer are developed to help us learn more about the disease and how to defeat it. This project aims to use a new tissue model called “organoids” to study the cancer in individual patients. Using organoids, new cancer-promoting signaling pathways can be discovered and targeted therapeutically, new biomarkers for early stage disease can be identified, and therapies can be tested in a patient’s organoid before they are tested on the patient in the clinic. Another goal of this project is to use a compound called PEGPH20, which targets the tumor stroma, to determine how PEGPH20 is improving drug delivery.
Bert Vogelstein, M.D., Johns Hopkins University
$5 million over 5 years (2014 - 2019) | Project: Applying cancer genetics to improve the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer
: Genetic testing for early detection of pancreatic cancer is desperately needed. This study is designed to generate a worldwide clinical trial of two newly designed early detection tests. The first is a blood-based genetic test for the pre-symptomatic diagnosis of early stage pancreatic cancer. The second is the development of a pancreatic cyst-fluid test to identify which cysts are benign and which have the potential to develop into cancer. Additionally, this study is utilizing immunotherapy drugs that directly target specific mutations identified in the pancreatic cancer genome atlas.
"Thanks to The Lustgarten Foundation’s support, our laboratory has been able to focus on identifying the genetic alterations that lead to the initiation and progression of pancreatic cancers. This research has led to a revolution in understanding the disease, enabling new approaches to diagnosis and treatment. Our current efforts are directed towards three goals, each relying on sophisticated molecular genetic technologies that we have recently developed. First, we are developing blood tests that can detect early pancreatic cancers before they have spread, at a stage when they still can be cured by surgery and chemotherapy. Second, we are developing next-generation diagnostic approaches to improve management of the hundreds of thousands of patients with pre-cancerous pancreatic cysts. Third, we are developing immunotherapeutic agents that specifically target the genetic alterations found in pancreatic cancers."
Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D., Salk Institute for Biological Studies
$5 million over 5 years (2014 - 2019) | Project: Curing pancreatic cancer through epigenetic reprogrammingOverview:
Changes in cancer gene expression can be influenced by epigenetics, or non-genetic factors. These studies aim to better understand the epigenetic factors that dictate the behavior of both the pancreatic cancer cells and the pancreatic stromal cells in the tumor in hopes of identifying key signaling factors that can be targeted therapeutically. "I am deeply honored by The Lustgarten Foundation’s support and belief that science and discovery will pave the road to a cure. We are excited to tackle the challenge and know that this funding will help us pioneer new advances toward understanding and treating this devastating disease. In particular, our recent work describes an exciting new approach to treating pancreatic cancer not by attacking the tumor but rather the cells that nurture the disease. Unexpectedly, a chemically modified version of Vitamin D called Calcipotriol, controls the ’shut-off’ valve on the fuel supply line, giving us hope for a new way to slow tumor progression. Our first trials in patients are already underway. Our next goal is to develop new drugs that reprogram the tumor itself. Thus, by rethinking the problem, we hope to open up new routes in the treatment of pancreatic cancer."
Douglas Fearon, M.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory & Weill Cornell Medical College
$5 million over 5 years (2014 - 2019) | Project: Immunological control of pancreatic cancer
Photo Credit: Constance Brukin
Overview: Pancreatic cancer cells protect themselves and prevent their own destruction by suppressing the body’s own immune system from attacking them. This long-term study aims to better understand the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon and its implications for patient treatment.
"The support from The Lustgarten Foundation Distinguished Scholar Award for my laboratories at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Weill Cornell Medical Medical Center is enabling us to develop new ways to overcome the resistance of pancreatic adenocarcinoma to immune therapy. We hope that these new studies will further our efforts to develop improved immune therapies that will build on the understanding that we will gain from our current Phase I clinical trial in patients with this disease. This clinical trial is also supported by The Lustgarten Foundation, which further exemplifies the Foundation’s remarkable commitment to solving the challenges posed by this complex disease."