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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 21, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 26
Pancreatic Cancer Research Center Is Announced

By David March
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Cancer specialists at Johns Hopkins have announced the start of a collaborative research initiative focused on developing novel means of earlier diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer, which kills nearly 31,000 Americans each year and has one of the lowest survival rates for any type of cancer. With $10 million in funding from the Sol Goldman Charitable Trust, a New York-based philanthropy with historic ties to Baltimore, the new initiative will support a team of more than 12 faculty and young researchers.

"Pancreatic cancer kills most patients within five years of their diagnosis, and most of them within one to two years, yet research has been chronically underfunded," said pathologist Ralph Hruban, a professor at the School of Medicine and Kimmel Cancer Center, who will lead the research effort. "With support from the Goldman Trust, our team of young and established researchers will advance our understanding of this mercurial form of cancer, which is largely unresponsive to existing and conventional therapies of surgery and chemotherapy. Our hope is that the discoveries made by this team will also benefit patients fighting other forms of cancer."

The newly endowed entity will be named the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center. Hruban said the scientists' efforts will focus on "out of the box" ideas, such as research therapies targeting a specific patient's cancer; use of cutting-edge gene chip technology; and research into the early detection of pancreatic cancer using proteomic and genetic biomarkers, or small biological signals from blood or tissue samples that amplify a cell's DNA. The researchers also plan to use the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry, which is based at Johns Hopkins and contains more than 1,400 family samples, to find the gene or genes responsible for the 10 percent of pancreatic cancers that are family-related.

"The gift also enables us to address the irony that while pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths each year in the United States, research into its causes and cures receives very little funding--less than 1 percent of the National Cancer Institute's budget," Hruban said.

"The Sol Goldman Charitable Trust is very pleased to invest in this team of pancreatic cancer researchers in memory of my mother, Lillian, who died of the illness in 2002," said Jane Goldman, daughter of Sol and Lillian Goldman and trustee of the Goldman Trust. "By partnering with this team of Johns Hopkins scientists, we hope to attract new faculty and young researchers into this less-studied field of research, and we know that this initiative will carry on into the future as others follow suit.

"This new research center," she said, "fits into my parents' understanding of what it took to build an enterprise that could grow beyond any one lifetime, and we predict its results will benefit future generations of pancreatic cancer patients."

The Sol Goldman Charitable Trust is an independent foundation established in 1988 in New York to support the arts, education, the environment, health organizations, human services and Jewish and Protestant agencies. Other Goldman family trusts also support arts and cultural services. Among Sol and Lillian Goldman's past real estate holdings, among the world's largest in the 1980s, was Baltimore's landmark Belvedere Hotel.

For more than a decade, the Johns Hopkins team has been dedicated to pancreatic cancer research. Discoveries made here include a gene, called DPC4, involved in half of all cases of pancreatic cancer; the development of a vaccine to treat patients with pancreatic cancer; and, more recently, the identification of which genes are specifically made at high levels by pancreatic cancer cells.

The complex Whipple procedure, the surgical method most often used to remove pancreatic cancer tumors, was also perfected at Johns Hopkins and offers one of the most effective treatments for operable pancreatic cancer. One Hopkins oncologic surgeon, John Cameron, former chairman of the Department of Surgery, has performed more than 1,000 Whipple procedures, more than any other surgeon in the United States.

Hruban's own work has tried to uncover the origins of pancreatic cancer. In 2003, his team at Johns Hopkins found that pancreatic cancers arise from smaller precancers, called precursor lesions, much like colon cancers arise from colon polyps. The researchers believe that these precursors are a first step to initiating the cancer.

Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are between the ages of 60 and 80, and there are only rare cases in people under age 40. There are no screening tests yet available to determine who is mostly at risk for developing it. The pancreas is a long, thin gland located near the stomach. It produces a number of hormones, such as insulin, and enzymes essential to the body's digestion of food.

Including this most recent gift, commitments to the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World campaign total more than $1.65 billion, more than 82 percent of the $2 billion goal. Priorities of the fund-raising campaign, which benefits both The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, include strengthening endowment for student aid and faculty support; advancing research, academic and clinical initiatives; and building and upgrading facilities on all campuses. The campaign began in July 2000 and is scheduled to end in 2007.


Related Web Site

Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center


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