Two Indiana University researchers have been awarded a multi-year, $3.2 million grant to develop and improve therapies for pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States.Mark R. Kelley, Ph.D., Betty and Earl Herr Professor of Pediatric Oncology Research, and Melissa L. Fishel, Ph.D., assistant research professor of pediatrics, both at the IU School of Medicine, were awarded a 5-year grant (CA167291) from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.The two Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center researchers will focus on investigating the signaling pathways and molecular mechanisms that contribute to pancreatic tumor progression and resistance to therapy.
Signaling pathway describes a group of molecules in a cell that work together to control one or more cell functions, such as cell division or cell death. After the first molecule in a pathway receives a signal, it activates another molecule. This process is repeated until the last molecule is activated and the cell function is carried out. Abnormal activation of signaling pathways can lead to cancer.
The research team also includes Theresa Guise, M.D., Jerry and Peggy Throgmartin Professor of Oncology, and Mircea Ivan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine, both at the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Guise is an expert on tumor microenvironment and metastatic disease, while Dr. Ivan is an expert in hypoxia, a condition in which there is a decrease in the oxygen supply. Pancreatic tumors are hypoxic, which makes them more aggressive and difficult to treat.
There is a need for new therapies for pancreatic cancer patients because current treatments typically only extend a person’s life for six to 10 weeks. Only 6 percent of people with the disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be an estimated 45,220 new cases of pancreatic cancer and 38,460 deaths from the disease in 2013.