Our Focused Mission
Our mission is to cure pancreatic cancer by:
- Funding scientific and clinical research related to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of pancreatic cancer
- Providing research information and clinical support services to patients, caregivers and individuals at high risk
- Increasing public awareness and hope for those dealing with this disease
The Lustgarten Foundation envisions a world in which pancreatic cancer is curable and patients will be treated effectively and enjoy a good quality of life.
Our operating principles to achieve this vision include:
- Continuing to be the largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research in the world
- Striving for excellence
- Emphasizing compassion
- Having a commitment to serve
- Having integrity to our mission, to those we serve, and to ourselves
Our Financial Guarantee
Thanks to separate funding to support administrative expenses, 100% of your donation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research. We are the only pancreatic cancer organization that can make this claim.
The Lustgarten Foundation meets the highest standards established by Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance and GuideStar. In fact, we have received a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator for ten consecutive years, which only one percent of charities evaluated have achieved. We are a fully accredited charity with the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and have a platinum transparency rating with GuideStar. We want to assure you that you can give with confidence and we encourage you to review our financials.
As the nation’s largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research, we recognize that not only are we a voice in the national dialogue on the need for earlier detection and better therapies for pancreatic cancer; we started the conversation. We have the profound responsibility of shining a spotlight on pancreatic cancer and doing everything possible to improve the treatment of the disease by funding leading-edge research.
For the researchers in laboratories across the country, the clinicians on the front lines of treatment, the patients and their loved ones facing this life-threatening disease with tenacity and grace, we are singularly focused on changing patient outcomes which can only be achieved through research.
In 1998, when 51-year-old Marc Lustgarten, Cablevision Vice Chairman, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Cablevision Chairman Charles F. Dolan and Chief Executive James L. Dolan, along with Marc, had a vision for creating a foundation dedicated to curing this devastating disease through research. This vision was shaped by Marc’s experience. It took six months for him to receive his diagnosis, and when he did, there were almost no treatment options available. Marc passed away in 1999, and to honor his memory, our mission remains steadfast – to advance the research related to the diagnosis, treatment, cure and prevention of pancreatic cancer while raising public awareness and providing support for patients and their families.
At the time the Lustgarten Foundation was established, pancreatic cancer was an “orphan” disease with less than $16.2 million, or less than half of one percent of the total National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) budget supporting fewer than 15 researchers nationally. Because this was the only funding available at the time, young investigators opted not to dedicate their careers to the study of the disease. Knowing research follows dollars, ,the Lustgarten Foundation donated $3 million in its inaugural round of pancreatic cancer research grants. Subsequently, in 2000, the Foundation awarded ten, $100,000 grants totaling $1 million to stimulate pancreatic cancer research. Over time, our support of pancreatic cancer research has stimulated the NCI to increase its pancreatic cancer research funding to more than $152 million in 2016 and inspired the creation of other pancreatic cancer organizations. Today, there are thousands of researchers from all disciplines working to solve this problem, many of whom are leaders in their fields. You can learn more about our history in our 20th anniversary report.
Marc Lustgarten was larger than life. Beloved by family, friends and colleagues, his passing devastated many especially those in the Cablevision family. He joined Cablevision in 1975 as assistant general counsel and held a variety of key positions with the company over nearly a quarter of a century.
While Marc’s business contributions to Cablevsion were bountiful, his most meaningful legacy were his personal qualities. He had a wise master’s demanding way of insisting on performance from his subordinates (and superiors) while he remained approachable and always human in his manner. His abilities to charm, persuade and excite were without peer. Marc welcomed even the most daunting challenges and remained unbowed by the position or pretense of others-perhaps because he possessed so little pretense himself. His humor was easily summoned and a joy to experience—a quintessential New York humor from a quintessential New Yorker. Perhaps his humor was matched only by his almost youthful fondness for mischief and chaos. Marc reveled in it all.
When he passed, he left behind countless friends, colleagues and most importantly, his wife Marcia and two children, Andrew and Jessica, all whom serve on our board of directors today.
The Lustgarten Foundation is the driving force behind changing the pancreatic cancer research landscape. We began by seeking out the most talented researchers from around the world who now have made it their life’s work to understand and treat this disease. The Lustgarten Foundation has had a role in many pancreatic cancer research breakthroughs.
One of the most significant advancements was achieved by our Chief Scientist, David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D., when he generated the first genetically engineered mouse for pancreatic cancer, a model which is now used throughout the scientific community to test new therapies for pancreatic cancer. He also discovered that pancreatic cancer tumors develop a protective membrane, or stroma, which prevents chemotherapy from reaching the cancer cells, impeding treatment. This finding has enabled other researchers to work on developing methods to break through the stroma.
We commissioned renowned cancer researcher Dr. Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University’s Kimmel Cancer Center to do a complete genetic analysis of pancreatic cancer. This research revealed that the disease is caused by a number of mutations acting together, rather than by a single gene. It also revealed that certain mutated pancreatic cancer genes are cancer-causing, while others are mutations that occur simply as a result of the cancer being formed. Most significantly, his findings demonstrated that the KRAS gene is mutated in nearly 100 percent of all pancreatic cancer tumors. This research marked the most comprehensive genetic sequencing that had ever been done for any cancer.
During that same time period, there was another game changing breakthrough for patients, the FDA approved the use of Abraxane in combination with Gemcitabine as first line treatment for patients with advanced metastatic pancreatic cancer. This was the first new treatment approved in nine years. The Lustgarten Foundation funded additional studies around Abraxane following the FDA approval.
Another important step forward was the development of the organoid by Drs. Tuveson and Hans Clevers, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Organoids are three-dimensional cell culture systems which reproduce a patient’s tumor in a dish. Pancreatic cancer cells are hard to grow in culture which slows research. Until the advent of organoids, scientists had to rely on cells grown in flat culture dishes or depend on samples from genetically engineered mice which take a year to generate. Organoids can be grown in a matter of weeks. Organoids can be used repeatedly to test different drugs with the aim of identifying new treatments. Not only has the development of the organoid accelerated the research process, but it will bring the laboratory closer to the clinic.
Pancreatic cancer research is moving faster than ever before. There has never been a more exciting or hopeful time for patients. Our researchers have achieved significant milestones in understanding and treating this disease – advancements that are already changing patient outcomes.
Harnessing the Immune System
In 2017, in an unprecedented, fast-tracked review, the FDA approved Keytruda® as the first immunotherapy treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer patients whose tumors have a unique genetic mutation called mismatch repair deficiency. This deficiency alters their capacity to repair DNA, which is a factor in cancer development. It is estimated that approximately 1 in 50 advanced pancreatic cancer patients have tumors that are mismatch repair deficient, making them candidates for this type of therapy. Keytruda is the first cancer drug based on a genetic characteristic, rather than tumor site, to be approved by the FDA for use in pancreatic cancer patients. The Lustgarten Foundation played a critical role in bringing this new treatment to patients by funding the research, encouraging patients to get tested, and funding patients’ testing to determine if their tumors are mismatch repair deficient.
Detecting Cancer Through a Single Blood Test
Researchers led by Dr. Vogelstein have designed a blood test called CancerSEEK that can detect the presence of pancreatic cancer as well as ovary, liver, stomach, esophagus, colorectal, lung and breast cancers. The test has the capacity not only to identify the presence of early cancer, but also to identify the organ of origin of these cancers.
This test is so critical because these eight cancers account for more than 60% of cancer deaths, and pancreatic cancer and four others in the panel have no screening test available. This study lays the foundation for a single blood screening test for multiple cancers that could be offered as part of routine medical checks. While further studies are necessary to establish the clinical utility of CancerSEEK and demonstrate that it can save lives, this test marks a significant first step toward a new era in how pancreatic cancer is diagnosed. The next steps are to increase the accuracy of CancerSEEK.
Bringing Research Into The Clinic
We are currently at a critical turning point in the Foundation’s history where our research is being utilized in the clinic in real time and several important clinical trials are starting. Brian Wolpin, M.D., MPH, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, is changing the way that pancreatic cancer patients are being treated.
Dr. Wolpin takes a two-pronged approach to implementing personalized medicine. His first approach focuses on genetic sequencing of both the tumor DNA and the inherited DNA. The sequencing findings are then used to identify new treatment programs for patients, which may include off-label use of medications that treat other cancers. The second personalized medicine approach Dr. Wolpin uses involves growing organoids which provides an opportunity to go beyond DNA sequencing to identify new therapy approaches. Dr. Wolpin is working to determine whether drugs that are effective in treating a patient’s organoid in the laboratory also work to treat the cancer when given to the patient.
Additionally, researchers in the Foundation’s Dedicated Research Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, have demonstrated that organoids can quickly and accurately predict how patients with pancreatic cancer will respond to a variety of treatments.
The team assessed RNA levels in individual organoids to determine gene signatures predictive of sensitivity to the five chemotherapies administered to pancreatic cancer patients. Three of these signatures correctly identified large numbers of patients who had responded to these drugs, and showed that responding patients lived much longer before the cancer progressed. Therefore, the signatures should in principle enable physicians to choose the correct chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer patients for first-line treatment. Since many of the organoids that did not respond well to chemotherapy instead were sensitive to a variety of investigational drugs, patients who lacked the sensitivity signatures might instead more quickly be treated with experimental agents.
Dr. Tuveson and his team plan to further refine the gene signatures through additional experiments, then test the genes’ ability to predict treatment sensitivity in clinical trials.
Our Ongoing Commitment
We are continuing to make large-scale commitments to leading pancreatic cancer researchers, funding studies that seek to stretch the boundaries of science. Looking ahead, we are centering our research program on the areas that will have the greatest impact for patients: earlier detection and early intervention; personalized medicine; new therapies; and artificial intelligence. For our earlier detection and early intervention program, we are working to diagnose the disease when its precancerous and to significantly increase the surgery rate in five years. We are supporting research that advances personalized medicine by identifying existing medicines used off label, new combination treatments and novel dosing regimens to determine the treatment most likely to improve patient outcomes based on the genetic makeup of the patient’s tumor. Additionally, we are applying our understanding of the biology behind pancreatic cancer to identify druggable targets that will lead to the development of new therapies. We will also be utilizing artificial intelligence to achieve results never before possible.
We are unwaveringly committed to the guiding principle that it is our duty to change patients’ lives, create a larger community of survivors, and give patients a reason to have an abundance of hope. We believe it’s no longer a matter of “if” we are going to conquer this disease; it’s a matter of when.