Distinguished Scholars - Lustgarten Foundation: Pancreatic Cancer Research

Distinguished Scholars

Distinguished Scholar Award Recipients

Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D.

Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Funding: $5 million over 5 years (2014-2019)
Project: Curing pancreatic cancer through epigenetic reprogramming

“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 paricalcitol 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.”

Learn more about about epigenetics research here.

About Dr. Evans:
Dr. Evans is a professor and biologist at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. Dr. Evans is an authority on hormones, both their normal activities and their roles in disease. His research focuses on the function of nuclear hormone signaling and metabolism. His lab has discovered that a chemically modified form of vitamin D might offer a new approach to treating pancreatic cancer. The vitamin D derivative makes tumor cells vulnerable to chemotherapy and more sensitive to the body’s immune system. With clinicians at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Evans’ team launched a clinical trial to test this drug in pancreatic cancer patients which is ongoing.  Learn more about Dr. Evans’ clinical trial.

In 2003, he was awarded the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, and in 2004 he received the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. He is also a recipient of the Harvey Prize (2006), the Gairdner Foundation International Award (2006), the Albany Medical Center Prize (2007) and the Wolf Prize in Medicine (2012).
He is one of the most cited living biologists and has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1989.

Douglas Fearon, M.D.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory & Weill Cornell Medical Center
Funding: $5 million over 5 years (2014-2019)
Project: Immunological control of pancreatic cancer

“The support from the Foundation for my laboratories at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Weill Cornell Medical Center is enabling us to develop new ways to overcome the resistance of pancreatic cancer to immunotherapy. We hope that these new studies will further our efforts to develop improved immunotherapies.”

Learn more about our immunotherapy research.

About Dr. Fearon:
Dr. Fearon began his career as a physician-scientist. While he enjoyed practicing medicine, he learned that treating patients did not always mean saving them. He realized that if he was truly dedicated to curing patients he would have to commit to doing research 100 percent of the time.
Dr. Fearon’s research career began at Harvard in the laboratory of Dr. Frank Austen. The subject of his research was innate immunity, and he made significantl contributions to understanding the immune system. In 1984, he was appointed full Professor at Harvard Medical School and deputy chair of the Department of Rheumatology and Immunology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Fearon became increasingly interested in the connections between innate and acquired immunity and moved several more times before he decided to study cancer immunology in collaboration with his former Ph.D. student and our Chief Scientist, Dr. David Tuveson.
Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Fearon has helped establish a unifying principle in immunology: the two systems of immunity, innate and acquired, are integrated. Dr. Fearon is working on a long-term study to better understand how pancreatic cancer cells protect themselves and prevent their own destruction by suppressing the body’s own immune system from attacking them. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon will impact treatment.

Most recently, Dr. Fearon published a seminal paper on cancer metastasis in the May 17, 2018 edition of Science.

Bert Vogelstein, M.D.

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center
Funding: $5 million over 5 years (2014-2019)
Project: Applying cancer genetics to improve the diagnosis, prognosis, detection and treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer

“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 toward three goals, each relying on sophisticated molecular genetic technologies that we have recently developed. First, we developed a blood test (CancerSEEK) 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 through our project known as CystSeek. Third, we developed an artificial intelligence approach in order to detect pancreatic cancer at early stage, using CT scan images. This project is well known as the “Felix” project.”

The Felix project was recently featured on NPR.

Click here to read more about early detection.

About Dr. Vogelstein:
Dr. Vogelstein is Director of the Ludwig Center, Clayton Professor of Oncology and Pathology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at The Johns Hopkins Medical School and Kimmel Cancer Center.

Dr. Vogelstein has published more than 500 scientific papers. Dr. Vogelstein’s research papers have been cited nearly 300,000 times, more often than those of any other scientist, in any discipline, in recorded history. If books in addition to research papers are included, Dr. Vogelstein is ranked as the 8th most cited scholar of all time, with Sigmund Freud ranking first.

Beginning in 2004, Dr. Vogelstein and colleagues began to perform large-scale experiments to identify mutations throughout the genome. They were the first to perform “exomic sequencing,” where they determined the sequence of every protein-encoding gene in the human genome. The first analyzed tumors included those of the colon and breast. The Foundation then recruited Dr. Vogelstein to sequence the genetic makeup of pancreatic cancer, which was a significant turning point in pancreatic cancer research.
Following up from this landmark research, Dr. Vogelstein is focusing his research efforts on developing earlier detection tests.

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