Molecular biologist awarded 2010 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network - AACR Career Development Award

Molecular biologist Jonathan Brody, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Surgery at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, has been awarded a 2010 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network - American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Career Development Award in memory of Skip Viragh. This two-year grant awards $200,000 to Dr. Brody to help support his innovative research in pancreatic cancer. He will receive recognition for his work at the 2010 AACR annual meeting in Washington, D.C. on April 20th.

"As a young pancreatic cancer researcher I have always admired these two top-notch organizations," says Dr. Brody. "To be recognized by them truly is an honor and validates the direction of my research."

This award allows him to produce a body of high-quality data over the next few years as he strives to extend his funding and work with the aid of such agencies as the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Ultimately, Dr. Brody hopes this funding will help translate the work in his laboratory for the benefit of pancreatic cancer patients in the clinical setting.

Dr. Brody will use the funding to build upon his research on a stress-response protein called Hu antigen R (HuR), "activated' in pancreatic tumor cells. Dr. Brody and his team have found that HuR can actually be used to predict the effectiveness of the standard chemotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer: gemcitabine. Dr. Brody and his team are now seeking a way to activate HuR in patients that show low levels of the protein. "The research is moving into expanding our clinical samples as well as building on pre-clinical, animal models for further exploration," says Dr. Brody. "We are intrigued as to whether other chemotherapeutic agents might also engage this same pathway."

This means that HuR is essentially a biomarker, which we can use to determine up front whether a patient is likely to respond to this treatment or not. The findings of his initial study, of which Dr. Brody was the senior author and Dr. Agnieszka Witkiewicz, assistant professor, Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology, closely collaborated on, were first published as a Priority Report in the journal Cancer Research in June 2009; a follow up report is being presented at the American Surgical Association in Chicago this April. Dr. Witkiewicz's involvement and expertise has been critical for this work.

"While the need for scientific and medical breakthroughs in pancreatic cancer research is urgent, there is a major shortage of federal funding for research on this deadly disease," says Julie Fleshman, President and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. "Since 1999, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has been working to help fill this critical void. In 2010, we will disburse nearly $2.3 million in funding for research grants. We are excited about this partnership with Dr. Brody and look forward to working with him as we make strides against pancreatic cancer ."

"By improving our understanding of drug metabolism and the molecular diversity that exists within the patient population, this study has important implications for the development of personalized medicine for pancreatic cancer," notes Ms. Fleshman. "The results have the potential to help us learn how to customize treatments for patients to improve outcomes and survival."

One of three Career Development Awards granted to junior faculty at academic and medical institutions this year, Dr. Brody's award is named for the philanthropist and Rydex Investments founder Skip Viragh, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2003.

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