Scientists at the Perlmutter Cancer Center are seeking to delineate the cellular and molecular basis of pancreatic cancer and the role of the immune response in its initiation and progression. Perlmutter Cancer Center researchers have a strong interest in exploring the link between chronic pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis) and pancreatic cancer.

Investigators at the Perlmutter Cancer Center are also studying the mechanisms underlying the spread (metastasis) of pancreatic cancer to the liver. They have found that immune suppressive cells proliferate in the liver early in pancreatic cancer development. Targeting these cells holds potential for pancreatic cancer immunotherapy against liver metastases.

Patients with pancreatic cancer have access to several clinical trials at the Perlmutter Cancer Center evaluating new drugs for pancreatic cancer and new combinations of existing treatments. Some therapies target specific molecular pathways which are overexpressed in pancreatic tumors.

  • Investigators are assessing drugs which target the "hedgehog" pathway, an embryonic pathway which has been shown to be aberrantly overexpressed in most pancreatic tumors.
  • Doctors are assessing drugs such as erlotinib and gemcitabine given before surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence and metastasis. They will also explore the molecular characteristics of each patient's tumor and see how each patient's cancer responds to such neoadjuvant treatment.
  • Researchers are evaluating a drug called a PARP inhibitor which may make cancer cells more susceptible to chemotherapy by interfering with their ability to repair the DNA damage that anticancer drugs inflict. This approach may be especially relevant for patients with BRCA mutations, who have an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Radiation oncologists are studying novel ways to deliver radiation therapy to patients with pancreatic cancer.

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