SU2C Scientific Research Teams
SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Dream Team: Intercepting Pancreatic Cancer in High-Risk Cohorts
Anirban Maitra, MBBS
Professor of Pathology and Translational Molecular Pathology, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
+ Full Bio
Michael G. Goggins, MD
Professor of Pathology, Medicine and Oncology, John Hopkins University
+ Full Bio
Scott M. Lippman, MD
Director of Moores Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego
+ Full Bio
“By focusing on individuals at high risk of pancreatic cancer, we hope to intercept the disease process at a very early stage when it can be more successfully treated, and thus save many lives.”—Anirban Maitra, MBBS
Cancer interception, a phrase coined by Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, a member of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, has great potential to improve the lives of patients who may have higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer. Cancer interception is defined as actively blocking cancer at its earliest, pre-invasive stages with drugs, vaccines or screening. This phrase was meant to distinguish active versus passive intervention (e.g., not smoking), but does not suggest importance of one over the other. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is typically diagnosed after it has metastasized, and there is no suitable screening test to apply to the general population.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) will soon be the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Unfortunately, the standard-of-care is woefully inadequate and few patients are cured. Studies by members of this Dream Team have helped define groups of people who are at higher risk for developing pancreatic cancer than the general population. For example, individuals that may greatly benefit from cancer interception are people with an inherited predisposition to pancreatic cancer, patients with pancreatic cysts, and adults with new-onset diabetes.
The overarching goal of the SU2C-Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Interception Dream Team is to intercept pancreatic cancer in high risk patients through careful early detection and targeted immune prevention. In addition, these studies will search for characteristics of the blood (such as the presence of tumor DNA) that can be used to create an early detection blood test for pancreatic cancer. The multidisciplinary effort spans six institutions: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, University of California, San Diego, and MIT. Through the combined volume of patients, the team will test 2,000 pancreatic cancer patients for heritable mutations, and screen the immediate family members of mutation carriers for their own pancreatic cancer risk. Cancer-free relatives that carry a mutation will be invited to enter an active screening protocol, tied to computer-based “deep learning” imaging algorithms that can detect smaller cancers missed by the human eye.
An important, practice-changing deliverable of these studies will be to make universal testing a standard of care for all pancreatic cancer patients. A subset of high-risk individuals who are currently cancer-free, but who harbor pre-cancerous lesions in their pancreas, will also be invited to participate in the first-ever clinical trial of a vaccine to prevent pancreatic cancer. This vaccine will attempt to induce the body’s immune system to seek out cells containing specific mutations; the first target will be a mutated KRAS gene, the earliest and most common genetic change found in pancreatic cancer cells. The success of this pioneering trial will set the stage for future immune-based cancer interception approaches in such genetically defined, high-risk populations.
Finally, the team will develop a “blood test” for diagnosis of pancreatic cancer before it can be found with current technologies, as this window of opportunity presents the best shot at intercepting the cancer and prolonging survival. This blood test will be applied to high risk settings such as new-onset diabetes. Taken together, this work holds the promise to significantly change the detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer in patients who are at high risk of developing the disease.