New research to study genetics and cell biology of pancreatic cancer

The Georgia Institute of Technology and Saint Joseph's Hospital have joined together to begin the first regional research program to study the genetics and cell biology of pancreatic cancer.

Tissue and serum samples from patients with cancer are being scrutinized to identify the differences in genetic and cellular features between normal and tumor cells. Findings from this research will be used for the ultimate purpose of developing tests for early diagnosis and identifying specific, targeted therapies to treat pancreatic cancer.

“The traditional treatment philosophy of ‘one size fits all' is quickly becoming obsolete,” says George Daneker, MD, the Medical Director of Oncology Research at Saint Joseph's Hospital and co-principal investigator of the study. “No two individuals are alike nor are two cancers; each is unique based on genetic and protein makeup.”

Working with John McDonald, PhD, Chair of the School of Biology at Georgia Tech, and based on the research strategies from the acclaimed work of Dr. McDonald and Benedict Beningo, MD, with ovarian cancer patients, the current research is the first to focus on pancreatic cancer, accepted to be the most fatal of common cancers. Pancreatic cancer is similar to ovarian cancer in that it often goes undetected until the disease is too far advanced for curative therapy.

Dr. McDonald, recognized as a world authority in molecular genetics and genomics and Dr. Daneker, a surgical oncologist with an extensive background in basic and translational research, are applying state-of-the-art technologies toward identifying aberrant molecular and cellular mechanisms. Using microarray technology, gene expression patterns in pancreatic tumor tissue are compared with those present in the normal pancreas tissue. Microarray technology allows examination of more than 20,000 genes in a single experiment. Differences in the expression of genes encoding cellular proteins are of special interest with regard to the development of specific treatments.

There is also interest in the molecular basis of chemotherapy resistance. Some tumors respond very well to chemotherapy while others acquire resistance. By comparing the gene expression patterns in tumors that have become resistant to chemotherapy with patterns of these same tumors prior to chemotherapy, the research team hopes to identify the genes which mediate resistant. Identification of the mechanisms of resistance could lead to the development of treatment strategies that overcome the resistant pathways, making all tumors more responsive to treatment.

The research efforts will also focus on screening and early detection. By using a powerful analytical tool called mass spectrometry, coupled with data analysis using a “super-computer,” the group hopes to identify patterns of molecular expression unique to cancer patients. This can lead to a sensitive screening test that only requires one drop of blood to run.

“Georgia Tech has the most advanced technology and the scientists who can help move these ‘bench' research projects closer to ‘bedside' treatments for patients at a very rapid rate,” says Daneker. “Saint Joseph's brings the clinical expertise to take the treatments directly to the patient faster. It's a very unique partnership that facilitates rapid discovery and satisfies both our missions to bring the best treatments to patients in the quickest, safest way.”

Saint Joseph's and Georgia Tech plan on expanding the collaborative research to lung cancers in April, as well as to prostate and colorectal cancers in the following months.

About Saint Joseph's - Saint Joseph's, recognized as one of the 50 top hospitals in the country, is the regions premier provider of cardiac and vascular services and is Atlanta's oldest hospital. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1880, today Saint Joseph's is a 410-bed, acute-care hospital recognized as one of the leading specialty-referral hospitals in the Southeast and is a part of Saint Joseph's Health System which also includes the Saint Joseph's Translational Research Institute (SJTRI)

As a leader in cardiac, neurologic, vascular, gastrointestinal, respiratory, orthopaedic and cancer care, among others, Saint Joseph's offers its patients the latest procedures and treatments by providing its medical staff of more than 750 physicians with research services and the most advanced technology available. In addition to serving the metro-Atlanta area, patients come from all over Georgia, nearby states and internationally because of Saint Joseph's specialized services, excellent reputation and unique patient experience.

Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Saint Joseph's is a member of Catholic Health East. For more information, visit the website at www.saintjosephsatlanta.org.

About Georgia Institute of Technology - The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the nation's premiere research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities, Georgia Tech's more than 19,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and African-American engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute. For more information visit the website at www.gatech.edu.

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