New grant to study pancreatic cancer

We recently got NIH approval for a new grant to study pancreatic cancer. This work involves using our GEDI device on the blood of pancreatic cancer patients to try to learn about how pancreatic cancer spreads during early disease.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of death due to cancer in the United States, killing an estimated 35,000 people in 2009. The 5-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is very low–5% or so. A primary driver of this is that close to 80% of patients with pancreatic cancer have metastatic disease upon diagnosis. Almost all patients eventually develop disseminated metastatic disease as a cause of death. This suggests that pancreatic cancer spreads early, and small metastases spread before pancreatic tumors can be detected with current techniques and removed. We hope that we can learn about this process by detecting pancreatic cells in the blood of cancer patients.

This work is in close collaboration with Dr. Andrew Rhim and Dr. Ben Stanger at University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Their work (to be featured in the Jan 20 2012 issue of Cell) shows that, in mice, pancreas cells can be found in the blood even before the mice develop what we would call cancer. This result is important because it indicates that the spread of pancreatic cancer may start very early in the development of the disease.

The funded work will allow us to show that our GEDI microfluidic device can capture the cells that lead to spread of pancreatic cancer in humans, and allow us to study those cells in detail.