Florida Cancer Centers Awarded $1.36 Million to Fight Pancreatic Cancer

The Florida Department of Health’s James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program has armed the University of Florida Health Cancer Center, Moffitt Cancer Center and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami and numerous collaborating centers with $1.36 million to address cancer disparities and improve outcomes and care for individuals affected by pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is currently the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and is projected to become the second leading cause around 2020. It also has the lowest five-year survival rate of any leading cancer at only 9 percent.

“This award is significant and timely because pancreatic cancer is a malignancy desperately in need of funding to foster advancements in its prevention, earlier diagnosis and treatment,” said co-principal investigator Jennifer B. Permuth, Ph.D., M.S., a molecular epidemiologist and assistant member in the Departments of Cancer Epidemiology and Gastrointestinal Oncology at Moffitt Cancer Center. “The burden of pancreatic cancer is particularly high in Florida, a racially and ethnically diverse state that is expected to continue to rank second in the number of lives lost to pancreatic cancer this year.”

Jose Trevino, M.D.

“We also know that the incidence and deaths rates related to pancreatic cancer are higher in the African American population as compared to other racial and ethnic groups,” said co-principal investigator Jose G. Trevino, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the UF Health Cancer Center-Gainesville. “We need to better understand why these disparities exist and we believe the answers to these questions might be in our personal biology.”

Due to these grim statistics, Permuth and Trevino co-founded the Florida Pancreas Collaborative in 2015 with Nipun Merchant, M.D., chief surgical officer and director of the Surgical Oncology Research Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Mokenge Malafa, M.D., senior member of Department of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Moffitt, using funds awarded by the Florida Academic Cancer Center Alliance. The collaborative between Moffitt, UF and Sylvester initially focused efforts on developing novel early detection and prevention strategies, and is now able to tackle other important areas, including health disparities, with new academic and community partners throughout the state.

Over the next three years, pancreatic cancer researchers and clinicians with expertise in many areas including oncology, radiology, surgery, epidemiology, nutrition, genetics, molecular biology and pathology will be working with patient advocates to recruit patients from different racial and ethnic groups newly-diagnosed with and treated for pancreatic cancer at one of approximately 17 participating Florida  centers to build the first state-wide ‘biobank’ dedicated to minimizing disparities and personalizing care for individuals affected by pancreatic cancer.

A biobank is a valuable resource that involves collection, processing and storage of blood and tissue obtained during biopsy and surgery to improve our understanding of health and disease. When combined with clinical data and medical images, the Florida Pancreas Collaborative will be able to investigate biological processes that may underlie disparities and poor outcomes and target them with more effective therapeutic strategies tailored to the individual.

“Our team is extremely excited about this opportunity that’s been given to us by the state of Florida,” Trevino said. “We believe that this grant is absolutely critical to us having a better understanding of pancreatic cancer in different patient populations.”

“Collaborative, multi-institutional cancer disparities research of this kind has been lacking.  Together, we have an important opportunity to make a difference in the lives of thousands of patients with pancreatic cancer in our state and beyond,” said Permuth. “Our long-term goal is to minimize disparities, improve quality of life, increase survival, and provide hope for individuals and families affected by pancreatic cancer.”

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