Ochsner Health System Joins BSWRI and TGen to Explore Early Detection Test for Pancreatic Cancer

National Cancer Institute awards $5.13 million grant to fund research helpful in identifying patients before symptoms arise

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- A group of the nation’s premier cancer researchers — including investigators from Ochsner’s Precision Cancer Therapies Program (PCTP) – have joined Baylor Scott & White Research Institute (BSWRI) and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in securing a $5.13 million federal grant to develop an early detection system for pancreatic cancer— the nation’s third-leading cause of cancer-related death. Ochsner is the only hospital within the Southeast region of the United States and one of eight hospitals participating in this project.

The five-year, $5.13 million grant, known as a U01 grant, was awarded by the National Cancer Institute’s Pancreatic Cancer Detection Consortium, an initiative dedicated to bringing researchers together to better understand the disease and to develop and test new molecular and imaging biomarkers. The common goal is to identify high-risk precancerous lesions and early-stage pancreatic cancer in patients who could be candidates for surgical or other types of early intervention.

The Ochsner Cancer Institute is no stranger to cancer research and advanced treatment, caring for patients from 49 states and 22 countries. Earlier this year, they launched the Precision Cancer Therapies Program (PCTP), a multidisciplinary partnership between Ochsner and TGen, offering the region access to the latest in cancer therapeutics, early phase trials and research, improved tumor detection programs and advanced diagnostics.

“Through our partnership with TGen and the Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program — a dedicated program to bringing early-phase clinical trials and early detection to cancer patients — we are thrilled to have the opportunity to discover innovative solutions that will improve quality of care for our patients with pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Marc Matrana, Medical Oncologist and Medical Director, Ochsner Precision Cancer Therapies Program. “The research proposed by BSWRI and TGen, working with our Ochsner team, could have an incredible impact on those suffering with pancreatic cancer around the world. This could be the solution we’ve all been waiting for; we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Pancreatic cancer often is undetected with no overt symptoms or pain until late in the disease process when surgical removal is often no longer an option due to its advanced progression. While the natural history of the disease is not well known, this research has the potential to profoundly transform early detection of pancreatic cancer by creating a non-invasive, rapid, accurate and inexpensive blood test.

The new project has three initial objectives:

  • Collect matched blood and tissue from a series of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC, the most common form of pancreatic cancer); precancerous neoplasms (PN, abnormal growths of the pancreas); pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas); and normal pancreas cells and use these samples to identify “signals” characteristic of the conditions being studied.
  • Combine multiple signals into a testing panel capable of distinguishing patients with PDAC from those with either PNs or pancreatitis.
  • Through clinical trials, use the optimal testing panel prospectively to identify patients with PDAC and PNs.

These efforts come together to create the early-warning system for pancreatic cancer. It will consist of a test that would require only a small blood sample — a liquid biopsy rather than an invasive tissue biopsy — to detect pancreatic cancer. Successful development of a liquid biopsy for pancreatic cancer would allow physicians to monitor their patients consistently and safely every month, every week or even every day. A test such as this could also alert a physician to recurrence of cancer before it would be detectable otherwise.

“What we are working on here, it’s not going to be one or two markers, but a panel of markers — a full mixture of DNA, proteins, RNA, microRNA, DNA methylation markers,” said Ajay Goel, Ph.D., BSWRI’s director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Research, and the Center for Epigenetics, Cancer Prevention and Cancer Genomics, and the study’s principal investigator. This panel would be a more reliable, more sensitive, and more specific pancreatic screening than anything that’s available in medicine today.”

“Eventually, this method could be adopted for detecting and monitoring other cancers. We would know very soon if a particular drug or drug combination is working, or not,” said Daniel Von Hoff, MD, FACP, FASCP, FAACR, one of the world's leading authorities on pancreatic cancer who serves as TGen’s distinguished professor and physician-in-chief. Von Hoff also serves as a senior consultant to Ochsner’s Precision Cancer Therapies Program.

"I am proud to be working with Ochsner, an institution with a long history of innovation and excellent medical research. This partnership between Ochsner and TGen helps ensure that the cancer patients of the Gulf South have access to most cutting-edge cancer treatments available anywhere in the world," he adds.

Median survival for those with advanced pancreatic cancer was, until recently, less than six months, and the five-year survival rate was less than 10 percent. Survival rates are improving with the development of new therapeutics. Still, more than 43,000 Americans will succumb this year to this aggressive disease, a number eclipsed only by lung and colon cancers.

This project is one of three precision-medicine initiatives proposed under a 2015 BSWRI-TGen partnership that also includes: advanced genomic sequencing, which maps out the billions of chemical base pairs that comprise the human genome; and development of new clinical trials, which enable patients to receive the newest therapeutics tailored to the genetics of the individual patient’s tumor.

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About Ochsner Health System

Ochsner Health System is Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, healthcare system. Driven by a mission to Serve, Heal, Lead, Educate and Innovate, coordinated clinical and hospital patient care is provided across the region by Ochsner's 30 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals and more than 80 health centers and urgent care centers. Ochsner is the only Louisiana hospital recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Hospital” across four specialty categories caring for patients from all 50 states and more than 80 countries worldwide each year. Ochsner employs more than 18,000 employees and over 1,100 physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties, and conducts more than 600 clinical research studies. Ochsner Health System is proud to be a tobacco-free environment. For more information, please visit www.ochsner.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About TGen

Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. TGen is focused on helping patients with neurological disorders, cancer, diabetes, and infectious diseases, through cutting edge translational research (the process of rapidly moving research towards patient benefit). TGen physicians and scientists work to unravel the genetic components of both common and rare complex diseases in adults and children. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities literally worldwide, TGen makes a substantial contribution to help our patients through efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. TGen is affiliated with City of Hope, a world-renowned independent research and cancer and diabetes treatment center: www.cityofhope.org. This precision medicine affiliation enables both institutes to complement each other in research and patient care, with City of Hope providing a significant clinical setting to advance scientific discoveries made by TGen. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org. Follow TGen on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter @TGen.

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