Meet four researchers bringing progress to patients

Clockwise from top left: Brandi Glover, Anirban Maitra, Nicolette Juliana Rodriguez and Andrew Hendifar

This November, during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, PanCAN highlighted the urgent need for more research. Through the following stories and short videos, we invite you to learn about some of the scientists and physicians who have brought advances to patients and their families. From seasoned researchers to the new generation of PhD students just starting their careers, all point to PanCAN as the organization that brings them together and moves the field forward.

“A truly ambitious effort”

Anirban Maitra, MBBS, has been working in pancreatic cancer research for more than 20 years. He has yet to see anything like PanCAN’s Early Detection Initiative, which seeks to develop a screening strategy to detect pancreatic cancer early, before the disease spreads.

“There’s never been a study of this size that focused entirely on pancreatic cancer,” he said. “It’s a really ambitious effort.”

Research suggests that in a small subset of people diagnosed with diabetes after age 50, their diabetes was caused by pancreatic cancer. The Early Detection Initiative is a randomized controlled trial that is exploring this connection. It focuses on understanding the relationship between changes in blood sugar and weight and the development — and detection — of pancreatic cancer.

For dr. Maitra, who is a co-principal investigator for the Early Detection Initiative, early detection “has the single most important role to play in terms of improving survival and outcomes in this otherwise deadly disease.”

“When we look at patients who are diagnosed with an early stage and are able to successfully undergo surgery, those patients typically live much longer and are better off than those, sadly, who are diagnosed with a later stage.” advanced stage of their disease,” he said.

The recipient of one of the first PanCAN Career Development Awards, Dr. Maitra has received many subsequent PanCAN grants and has continued to remain involved in the organization by serving on the scientific and medical advisory board. Now scientific director of the Sheikh Ahmed Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he has watched the field grow around him, giving him hope that better early detection methods — and other major breakthroughs — are on the horizon. thanks in part to the bold plans PanCAN pursues.

“What I think makes PanCAN so different is its ability to embrace ideas that are outside the box, but need to be done for us to make a difference in this disease,” she said.

Watch a short video interview with Dr. Maitra.

“New Reasons for Hope”

Andrew Hendifar, MD, wants to bring new therapies to pancreatic cancer patients faster. Through his work with PanCAN’s Precision PromiseSM adaptive clinical trials – designed to accelerate drug development – are part of a pioneering group.

It also focuses on improving the way patients feel. As chair of the support committee for Precision Promise, Dr. Hendifar is interested in research that improves quality of life. He is exploring, with PanCAN fellow Gillian Gresham, PhD, how wearable technology like fitness trackers can help better understand a patient’s overall well-being.

“We can measure sleep. We can measure heart rate,” she said. “Some of these technologies are actually developing to the point where we can monitor your temperature, your blood tests at home. All through a wearable device.

Hendifar, who is co-director of pancreatic oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, knows that every new advance means better outcomes and the potential to save lives. In conversations with patients, he emphasizes how quickly change is coming.

“We always try to stay hopeful,” he said. “We try to understand the seriousness of the condition and that we have a lot of work to do together. But, without a doubt, the future is very bright. And every day, every week, every month there’s a new treatment. There is a new idea. There are new reasons for hope”.

Watch a short video interview with Dr. Hendifar.

“A project near and dear to my heart”

Black Americans are more likely to get pancreatic cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States, and black and Latino Americans are less likely to undergo genetic testing, an important tool for understanding risk and improving outcomes.

When it comes to troubling statistics like these, Nicolette Juliana Rodriguez, MD, MPH, is on a mission to figure out how to change the system for the better.

This year he won a PanCAN Catalyst Award for the REGENERATE study, which stands for Racial/ethnic Equity in GENetic Education, Risk Assessment and TEsting. It aims to evaluate perceptions of genetic education and testing among Black and Latino/a/x groups, with the goal of promoting equitable access to genetic treatments.

Dr. Rodriguez has conducted focus groups with Black and Latino/a/x individuals who have a personal connection to pancreatic cancer.

“Because Black and Latino/a/x patients are disproportionately affected in so many ways, it’s really important to hear their voices and [learn] what can we do to make sure they get the genetic education they need regarding pancreatic cancer screening and risk assessment,” she said.

The cause is personal to Dr. Rodriguez, who is a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an early career researcher in the Division of Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“As a first-generation Latina, it’s truly a project that is near and dear to me,” she said. “I have experienced first-hand the difficulties that my own family has had in interacting with the health system. And I want to learn: How can I make it easier for Black and Latino/a/x patients who are at risk for pancreatic cancer to get cancer prevention treatment?

Watch a short video interview with Dr. Rodriguez.

“I want to go out in the community”

As a doctoral student in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine program at Johns Hopkins University, Brandi Glover is part of the next generation of researchers focused on pancreatic cancer.

In his thesis, he is exploring how one particular mutation, called the KLF4 hotspot mutation, is related to the formation of a noninvasive type of tumor called intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasia (IPMN) that can often lead to pancreatic cancer.

She also hopes to become part of the solution when it comes to pancreatic cancer-related health disparities.

“My inspiration to be a part of the pancreatic cancer community comes from an understanding that the African-American community is disproportionately affected by pancreatic cancer,” she said. “Although I don’t have a direct family link to pancreatic cancer, I see its impact within the families I grew up in.”

One of the keys to his success as he builds his career: mentors. He has made connections through PanCAN and is optimistic about creating a pipeline of bright and motivated young researchers, particularly those from minority backgrounds. As more scientists of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds join the camp, students will have the opportunity to “see themselves into the future of what their work could potentially be.”

SM. Glover wants to give back this way and sees his relationship with PanCAN as one that will last.

“I want to get into the community and be able to advocate for patients,” she said. “PanCAN is doing an incredible job and I hope to be part of this amazing organization again throughout my career.”

Watch a short video interview with Brandi Glover.

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