City of Hope, TGen receive $4.5 million to validate liquid biopsy for early detection of pancreatic cancer

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City of Hope®, one of the largest cancer research and treatment organizations in the United States, and TGen are leading an international group that has been awarded $4.5 million to validate a liquid biopsy for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. The blood-based diagnostic developed by the National Cancer Institute's Pancreatic Cancer Detection Consortium (PCDC) leverages exosomal microRNAs that serve as a biomarker or unique RNA fingerprint for the early detection of disease or recurrence.

Enrollment of patients with early-stage pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a type of pancreatic cancer, will occur at all 10 member sites, including two that primarily serve Black/African American and Asian patients. Inclusion of diverse populations in biorepositories is crucial for advancing understanding of these diseases, promoting health equity, and ensuring that medical research and treatments are inclusive and effective for all populations.

The National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute awarded the $4.5 million grant to co-principal investigators Ajay Goel, Ph.D., M.S., AGAF, chair of the Department of Molecular Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, and Daniel D. Von Hoff, M.D., distinguished professor in the Molecular Medicine Division at Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), part of City of Hope.

Biomarkers are like fingerprints of our health, offering invaluable insights without requiring invasive procedures. The biomarker signature we found is able to act as a text notification, allowing oncologists to detect and monitor pancreatic cancer in a noninvasive manner."

Ajay Goel, Ph.D., M.S., AGAF, Chair of the Department of Molecular Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics at Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope

The American Society of Clinical Oncology identifies pancreatic cancer as the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among adults in the United States. PDAC is particularly deadly, with less than 6% of patients surviving for five or more years after diagnosis.

One of the main reasons for the high mortality rate of PDAC is the lack of reliable methods for diagnosing it at an early stage when medical treatment can make a significant difference. PDAC typically doesn't show noticeable symptoms in the early stages, so the most practical approach to early diagnosis is to develop a screening tool that can be used by any doctor for any patient.

The consortium will validate the diagnostic and test its effectiveness in retrospective longitudinal cohorts to assess its utility. Initial data suggest confidence that the diagnostic can identify abnormal cell growth and cancer without requiring surgery. If accurate, the novel diagnostic has the potential to reduce unnecessary surgeries and associated complications.

"We desperately need tools for very early detection of pancreatic cancer at stages where it can be treated effectively," Von Hoff said. "Our preliminary data are promising, and this grant will help solidify just how reliable this test will be."

Member sites include: the University of Southern California, City of Hope and Hoag Hospital in California; TGen, University of Arizona and HonorHealth in Arizona; the Medical College of Wisconsin; Baylor Scott & White Research Institute in Texas; Ochsner Medical Center in Louisiana; Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia; Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C.; Samsung Medical Center in Korea; and Nagoya University in Japan.

"Studies of this scope and size require a multidisciplinary and multinational team with a proven track record of biomarker development. We have that with the PCDC and at City of Hope," said Goel.

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