Homing in on pancreatic cancer

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC public relations | October 12, 2011

With the recent deaths of Apple founder Steve Jobs and Nobel Prize winner Ralph Steinman, M.D., pancreatic cancer is once again on the public's radar screen.

People want to know -- can anything be done to halt this lethal form of cancer?

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Surinder Batra, Ph.D.
That's the question UNMC researchers will try to address through a $4.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

"Our ultimate goal is to determine what makes pancreatic cancer so lethal," said Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the UNMC Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the principal investigator on the five-year grant. "We want to develop new therapeutics that work on pancreas cancer, because the drugs currently being used are not working."

A pure killer

Pancreatic cancer is arguably one of the most lethal cancers. Annually, more than 44,000 Americans discover they have pancreatic cancer. More than 95 percent of those diagnosed die within a few years of diagnosis.

There are no screening tools for pancreatic cancer and the location of the pancreas, deep in the abdomen, hinders early diagnosis.

Leading the charge

UNMC has established itself as a national leader in the study of pancreatic cancer with unique resources and more than $25 million in overall research funding through several NIH grants.

Dr. Batra's team will study animal models and human pancreas tissue.

"We will look at the role of the tumor micro-environment of cancer cells," Dr. Batra said. "We will try to figure out what makes these cells so aggressive, so resistant. We will study the pancreas, which is loaded with insulin, and try to determine if this environment is what makes pancreatic cancer so hostile."

Three other UNMC investigators will serve as project leaders along with Dr. Batra. They are:

  • Tony Hollingsworth, Ph.D., professor in the Eppley Cancer Institute;
  • Rakesh Singh, Ph.D., professor of pathology and microbiology; and
  • Keith Johnson, Ph.D., professor in the College of Dentistry.

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Linda M Wilkie
October 12, 2011 at 9:35 AM

Dr. Batra's tireless work in this area is a credit to UNMC and a benefit to all Nebraskans. His efforts to tackle this monstrous disease give hope to all. Linda Wilkie