UF Pharmacy faculty receive NCI grant to study early-stage pancreatic cancer therapeutic

Two UF Health Cancer Center members from the University of Florida College of Pharmacy have received a two-year $390,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to study how a new therapeutic may help treat pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

Thomas Schmittgen, Ph.D., left, and Fan Zhang, Ph.D.

Fan Zhang, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the department of pharmaceutics, along with Thomas Schmittgen, Ph.D., chair and professor in the department of pharmaceutics, are multi-principal investigators on the grant. The team will develop a novel nanosized particle to deliver a microRNA to target pancreatic precancerous cells. MicroRNAs are small molecules inside cells that regulate gene expression. The team will assess whether the new therapeutic can intercept cellular processes before the cancer develops.

“We’ve been studying the role of microRNA-216 in pancreatic cancer for about a decade,” Schmittgen said. “By applying Dr. Zhang’s novel nanoparticle delivery system, we can protect the microRNA from degradation in the bloodstream and hopefully target it to the pancreas.”  

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is the third most lethal cancer in the United States. The cancer has a poor prognosis in part because people are often diagnosed at late stages, after the cancer has spread. If the new therapy were applied clinically, it may allow people at high risk of pancreatic cancer to be treated earlier and help improve outcomes, the researchers said.

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