Gene-Targeted Drug Shows Promise Against a Form of Pancreatic Cancer

There may be new hope for patients with a subset of pancreatic cancers tied to certain genetic mutations, a new study finds. The study involving 42 patients found that a “PARP inhibitor” drug called rucaparib (Rubraca), may replace chemotherapy in the up to 8% of pancreatic cancer patients whose tumors are marked by BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2 genetic mutations. Two-thirds of pancreatic cancer patients with these tumor mutations experienced a halt in the growth of their cancer, or even tumor shrinkage, after switching from chemotherapy to rucaparib as a maintenance therapy, researchers found. The study was partly funded by Clovis Oncology, which makes rucaparib.

Give 5X the Hope
this Mother’s Day

In recognition of Mother’s Day, and in honor of Barbara, Stephanie and all women impacted by pancreatic cancer, please give your most generous gift todayNow through midnight on Mother’s Day—Sunday, May 9—your donation will be matched 5x up to $35,000*, thanks to Stephanie Kessler and Laura Hull, who also lost her mom to pancreatic cancer. That means every $1 becomes $5, and 100% of every donation funds life-saving pancreatic cancer research! Please give today!

Hopkins-Led Research Team Takes Gene Mutation Detection in Blood to the Next Level

Next-generation gene sequencing (NGS) technologies —in which millions of DNA molecules are simultaneously but individually analyzed— theoretically provides researchers and clinicians the ability to noninvasively identify mutations in the blood stream. Identifying such mutations enables earlier diagnosis of cancer and can inform treatment decisions. Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a new technology to overcome the inefficiencies and high error rates common among next-generation sequencing techniques that have previously limited their clinical application. To correct for these sequencing errors, the research team from the Ludwig Center and Lustgarten Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center developed SaferSeqS (Safer Sequencing System), a major improvement to widely used technologies based on a previous technology called SafeSeqS (Safe Sequencing System) that Hopkins investigators invented a decade ago. The new SaferSeqS technology detects rare mutations in blood in a highly efficient manner and reduces the error rate of commonly used technologies for evaluating mutations in the blood more than 100-fold.

Positive Thinking Is Powerful During and After Cancer Treatment

In the fall of 2018, Teri Cettina began feeling a mysterious pain around her ribs. “I thought I had done too many ab exercises at the gym,” says the 55-year-old health writer from Portland, Oregon. When Cettina visited her doctor, her blood and urine tests came back normal. But over the next several weeks, the pain worsened. Convinced her muscles were out of whack, she saw a physical therapist who did a 10-minute exam and told Cettina, “This is not musculoskeletal; it’s not a rib thing. It’s deeper — you need to see your doctor today.” Later that day, Cettina had a CT scan and received a diagnosis: pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Cettina’s tumor was particularly troubling because it was entangled in her veins and branches of the aortic artery, making surgical removal virtually impossible. Such grim news would send even the most hopeful optimist into a tailspin.

Life Lessons from an Unpredictable Diagnosis

By Joe Barone-


It is a frustrating, one-word question many of us exclaim when something in our lives seems completely surreal.

Oftentimes, it’s provoked by something so egregious and so incomprehensible that we can only muster up this first reaction in our minds.


It was the response by Michael and Debbie, whose full names have been omitted to respect their privacy, when Michael was blindsided by a very aggressive Stage IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis in a Maryland emergency room in late October 2012.

“He was the healthiest man in the world,” his wife of 41 years, Debbie, shared. “He didn’t take any medication, and he even played tennis three times the week of his diagnosis.”

All you can do is ask: “What?”

According to Debbie, Michael’s symptoms came out of nowhere. He didn’t have a family history of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer, and genetic testing didn’t reveal any mutations.

“One day, he said to me: ‘I have these weird symptoms. I have bright yellow urine, and I itch. I’ve been trying not to drink a lot during tennis; maybe I’m just dehydrated.’”

But Debbie knew something was wrong and immediately called her son, a physician in San Francisco, who told her Michael should see a doctor urgently. When they couldn’t get an appointment right away, their primary care doctor advised taking Michael to the hospital.

At the emergency room, doctors completed blood work and noticed Michael was jaundiced. From there, an ultrasound was conducted and detected a large mass on his pancreas. Further tests revealed inoperable masses on his liver and his lungs, leading to the insertion of a stent in Michael’s bile duct the next day. The countless tests and avalanche of distressing results took a mental and physical toll on Michael and Debbie.

In a two-day span, Michael and Debbie were experiencing emotions and thoughts across the spectrum—shock, confusion and sadness, but also determination in pursuing treatment options. While anger may have gripped many in similar circumstances, Michael was consumed with helping others, passing on the reins of his business and putting everything in order for Debbie.

Two weeks earlier, the couple had been across the country, visiting their son and daughter-in-law and playing with their grandchildren. Now, they were fighting back tears and comforting each other in a hospital room following the life-altering news.

“I just couldn’t understand,” Debbie confessed. “I asked my son: ‘What did I miss?’ To which he said: ‘Mom, you didn’t miss anything. He was fine. He was playing with the kids, carrying the kids, everything was fine.’”

Michael passed away in 2013, only 100 days after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He had just turned 63 years old.

In this short time, as Debbie paid bills by Michael’s side in bed, he gave her invaluable household and financial instructions in a meticulous notebook of crucial information that he created for her almost immediately upon receiving his diagnosis. It was a final act of love for his cherished wife; he was determined to continue caring for her.

“Going through this unpredictable disease changes you. It refocuses you, puts things into perspective,” she said.

It’s why, after some time for herself, Debbie got involved with the Lustgarten Foundation. She felt the need to give back and honor Michael.

“I believe that this is an excellent charity because all donations directly fund research, rather than administrative costs,” she said. “The Lustgarten Foundation does great things for patients and families faced with pancreatic cancer, and that’s why I started to get involved.”

“I couldn’t look at any websites for a long time,” she admitted. “It was too painful to reflect on the depth of what had happened. We had no time to do anything. It was too fast. Michael went from feeling fine to being intensely ill, and none of the available treatments were effective.”

Since 2018, Debbie and her family have donated to the Foundation. In 2019, they were invited to the opening of Lustgarten’s new dedicated pancreatic cancer research laboratory at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, MD. Along the way they also have taken part in the Foundation’s Pancreatic Cancer Research Walks both in person and virtually. In 2021, Debbie and a friend sponsored the Foundation’s Doctors’ Day matching gift program.

“I’ve learned this terrible disease can come out of nowhere, even if you’re completely healthy and have no risk factors,” Debbie said. “That’s why we need to continue to fund research for early detection, treatment and a cure.”

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$11 million investment to develop fibroblast therapeutic

Mestag Therapeutics™, a new company developing innovative therapies and treatments for cancers and inflammatory diseases, has been launched with $11 million in seed financing. In collaboration with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), Mestag is pursuing a first-in-class therapeutic strategy that focuses on cells called fibroblasts, which can impede the effectiveness of traditional cancer treatments. The approach was developed by an international team of researchers, including CSHL Cancer Center Director David Tuveson, whose lab has its sights set squarely on eradicating pancreatic cancer. The Tuveson lab has studied fibroblasts, the most common connective tissue cells in animals, because fibroblasts activated by cancer cells secrete a matrix that makes up about 90% of pancreatic tumors. This matrix prevents cancer treatments from reaching the cancer cells; once it is removed, cancer therapies can better reach their intended targets.

Our Hearts are Broken with the Passing of Steve Price

Our hearts are broken at the news of the passing of Lustgarten friend, Steve Price of New York, NY. A passionate and insightful pancreatic cancer advocate and patient, Steve understood the urgency of moving the research along quickly and the importance of investing in the most innovative science with the greatest opportunity to drive real progress. Steve kept up with every advancement and promoted the Lustgarten- funded Organoids for Personalized Therapy research study at the Lustgarten Foundation Dedicated Pancreatic Cancer Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Lab. In the study, researchers develop organoids—a revolutionary 3D cell culture—from patients’ pancreatic tumors to analyze its genetics, biology and drug sensitivity to determine the most effective chemotherapy regimen.

Shortly after Steve participated in Lustgarten’s New York City Pancreatic Cancer Research Walk, that happened to be emceed by his brother Dave Price, a journalist and weather forecaster with WNBC-TV in New York City. A week after the walk, Steve wrote to the Foundation:

“I came home from Sunday’s event filled with optimism. At the risk of stating the obvious, what Lustgarten is doing means a great deal to me and others like me.  Yesterday, when I told a new patient pal in my doctor, Allyson Ocean’s office, about the 1000 people gathered to fight for us, I saw her pain ease and her spirit lift.  I’ll be wearing my “HOPE” hat with pride when I go in for chemo tomorrow.  More importantly, I’ll be holding that message in my heart as I work toward earning the right to wear the hat that says “SURVIVOR.”

Steve’s cancer experience led to Dave joining the board of directors for Let’s Win Pancreatic Cancer Foundation. An affiliate of the Lustgarten Foundation, Let’s Win is an interactive online community where patients and families share information and experiences about new, innovative science-driven treatments and learn about the latest research breakthroughs and clinical trials in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

As much as Steve admired the Lustgarten Foundation, we admired him even more. We echo the sentiments Dave posted following Steve’s death:

“Today, my incredible brother, Steve, passed away from Pancreatic Cancer. His death is simply shattering to all of us who loved him—and who were loved so much by him. He was a beautiful example of goodness and heart and soul and righteousness and intellect and personality—the ‘ands’ could just continue on.

My brother fought his disease with determination, vigor, positivity and selflessness. Throughout his whole ordeal, he never stopped giving: sharing his love, imparting his knowledge and extending his friendship to everyone who crossed his path or walked it with him. He left us with learnings that will help those who battle cancer in the future, do so with even greater success and less suffering.

It would be easy to slide into despair today and just focus on Steve’s loss — but as much as I hurt, I am grateful. Doctors, nurses, medical staff, social workers, volunteers, advocates, friends, family and complete strangers locked arms with Steve and gave us 4 1/2 years that we never expected. Every day was hard-fought and won. Every day was precious.

Someday it will become more common to survive this dreadful disease and someday Pancreatic Cancer will be conquered — and when that happens, we’ll have the medical ‘saints’ who cared for Steve to thank. But credit will go to my brother as well, for he was not just a patient, but a full partner in his treatment and its success.

I miss Steve so much already—and I will forever, but he left me with an enduring gift: A model for how to lead a meaningful life. I will hold his memory close for the rest of my days and forever be proud of the way he lived.

We send our deepest condolences to the Price family. May his memory be a blessing to all who knew him.

The Pancreatic Standard of Care is No Longer So Standard

When doctors diagnose patients with pancreatic cancer, how do they decide which therapy to pursue? Are there standard protocols or guidelines that every doctor follows? Yes and no. For many diseases, including cancer, an expert panel of doctors gets together to agree upon drugs and therapies that should be used to treat the illness, based on a systematic review of the medical literature. This “standard of care” is then widely used by healthcare professionals as clinical practice guideline recommendations. For many years, the standard of care in pancreatic cancer has been: Surgery, followed by adjuvant therapy (additional treatment applied after the initial approach, usually chemotherapy or chemotherapy with radiation) for early-stage patients who are in good health, with accessible, ‘resectable’ tumors (tumors that are surgically removable).

Study sheds new light on the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to metastasize

With an overall survival rate of 9% for those diagnosed, pancreatic cancer remains exceedingly difficult to treat. However, the patient’s primary tumor typically isn’t what leads to death – it is the cancer’s ability to evade detection and metastasize to other organs. A team of researchers at the OU College of Medicine has published a new study in the journal Gastroenterology, the world’s leading publication on GI tract disease, that sheds new light on the ability of pancreatic cancer cells to spread throughout the body. Understanding why metastasis occurs is crucial for developing a therapeutic strategy to stop the spread. The study, led by scientist Min Li, Ph.D., and physician-scientist Courtney Houchen, M.D., centers around ZIP4, a protein that transports zinc throughout the body. While zinc is important for good health, too much of the heavy metal causes problems. In the new study, researchers found that when ZIP4 is overexpressed in patients with pancreatic cancer, it essentially prompts the tumor cells to transform themselves in a manner that allows them to stealthily travel to the body’s other organs. In scientific terms, the tumor cells transition from an epithelial to a mesenchymal phenotype.

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