By GREGORY ZELLER //
A private grant from a national support network will help Stony Brook University researchers explore a new therapeutic target in the war against pancreatic cancer.
The California-based Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – a registered 501(c)3 organization with offices in Los Angeles, New York City and Washington – has awarded a $500,000 grant to Stony Brook Medicine Pathology Chairman Kenneth Shroyer and Assistant Professor Luisa Escobar-Hoyos.
Shroyer, who is also Stony Brook Medicine’s Marvin Kuschner Professor of pathology, and Escobar-Hoyos, who serves as co-director of Stony Brook’s Pathology Translational Research Laboratory, will use the funds for a deep dive into Keratin 17, a cancer-promoting protein and, potentially, a key target gene in the difficult fight against the lethal disease.
The two-year grant, which kicked off this month, marks the first PanCAN Translational Research Award ever awarded to Stony Brook University researchers.
The new studies will build on discoveries made by the two doctors and their laboratory teams over the last seven years, including the recent discovery that K17 has the ability to permeate the nucleus of cancer cells, where it targets proteins that normally control cell division.
In this way, K17 triggers processes that cause tumor cells to divide, facilitating cancer growth. The big-picture idea to develop new pancreatic cancer treatments by, essentially, fritzing K17’s ability to move in and replicate tumor cells.
Stony Brook Medicine cited an “urgent” need for new treatments, noting just 8 percent of pancreatic cancer patients survive five years with the disease – the “lowest five-year survival rate of any major cancer,” according to the medical school.
The American Cancer Society estimates that of the roughly 53,000 Americans diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2017 – slightly more men than women – more than 43,000 will die from the disease.
According to PanCAN, pancreatic cancer will become the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2020.
Standing in its way are Shroyer and Escobar-Hoyos, who will oversee a wide range of studies under the auspices of the PanCAN grant. The work moving forward will leverage cutting-edge tools inside Stony Brook Medicine’s new Medical and Research Translation Building with the work of researchers at the Stony Brook Cancer Center and the university’s Department of Biomedical Informatics.
If successful, the PanCAN-supported K17 investigation will be instrumental in uncovering an “Achilles heel” built into the most aggressive forms of pancreatic cancer – a major step toward developing new treatments and extending patient survival rates, according to Shroyer.
Established in 2014, the PanCAN Translational Research Award has been conferred only 17 times, including six grants awarded this year.