Research Support Speeds Cancer Breakthroughs

The annual illumination Gala and Pedal the Cause, a cycling challenge, both support The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s Cancer Frontier Fund, a $50 million fundraising initiative launched in 2009. As a result, cancer should be shivering in its boots. Through the Cancer Frontier Fund, researchers at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine have been unleashed on cancer to accelerate research to find better ways to prevent, treat and cure the disease. And they’re making significant progress.

Take a look at just a few examples of strides researchers are making.

Progress in Pancreatic Cancer

The Foundation’s Cancer Frontier Fund is supporting a pancreatic cancer study for a second year because of the study’s significant findings the first year.

Pancreatic cancer is highly resistant to chemotherapy and only 3 percent of patients with the disease survive more than five years. Researchers want to uncover the reasons why pancreatic cancer is so resistant. With support from the Cancer Frontier Fund, David Linehan, MD, and his research team are making steady progress in understanding the mechanisms behind this resistance with the aim of developing strategies to improve patients’ response to treatment.

So far, researchers have identified biomarkers associated with patient survival and treatment resistance. The ongoing research will increase understanding of the fundamental principles underlying pancreatic cancer as well as provide much-needed new clinical approaches to treat the disease itself.

“By understanding how cancer cells evade chemotherapy, we can develop more effective, customized strategies to overcome this resistance and improve patient outcomes,” Dr. Linehan says.

Progress in Kidney Cancer

Nearly 65,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with kidney cancer every year. In one-third of patients, cancer has already spread beyond the kidney by the time this stealth disease is found. Yet early diagnosis of kidney cancer dramatically increases the patient’s chance for survival.

Currently, there is no screening method for kidney cancer. That is about to change thanks to breakthrough research supported by The Foundation’s Cancer Frontier Fund. Jeremiah Morrissey, PhD, and Evan Kharasch, MD, PhD, and their research team discovered two urinary proteins that are clear indicators of kidney cancer. As a result, the team has developed a simple urine test to detect kidney cancer. This test could become part of a routine physical, much like prostate screenings and mammograms. The next step is a large patient study, which will be funded by the Cancer Frontier Fund.

“For the first time, we have a simple, non-invasive diagnostic test for kidney cancer that can detect cancer earlier, before it has spread, when it’s most treatable,” Morrissey says. “ This is truly a breakthrough in cancer care.”

Progress in Colorectal Cancer

Current statistics show a five-year survival rate of less than 20 percent in patients with colorectal cancer that has spread. Ryan Fields, MD, is conducting research to dramatically improve that statistic.

Little is known about how colorectal cancer progresses from a primary tumor to metastatic colorectal cancer. What drives this change? Why do certain cancers (but not others) gain the ability to metastasize?

Supported by The Foundation’s Cancer Frontier Fund, Dr. Fields and his co-investigators are comparing the genes from both primary and metastatic tumors from the same patient to understand unique gene mutations that may drive a tumor to become metastatic. With this knowledge of cancer pathways, they will be better equipped to identify new targets for drug therapy.

This research provides a much more comprehensive investigation into colorectal genes and their functions and the biology of metastases than prior studies and will reveal new insights, Dr. Fields says.

“We strongly believe that this project has the potential to change the current model of cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, which could transform cancer treatment.”

For Dr. Fields, cancer research is personal. “One of my best friends died from colon cancer two years ago,” he says. “Since then, my singular career focus has been to advance our knowledge and deepen our understanding of cancer with the ultimate goal of developing novel therapies.”

This dedication and commitment is paying off. “We are in the midst of a biologic knowledge revolution that has the potential to radically change the way we think about and treat cancer,” he says. “We’re on the cusp of turning some of our current cancer paradigms upside down and opening new avenues in cancer treatments.”

Every day, researchers are closer to a cure for cancer. If you would like to be part of this progress, please make a gift to The Cancer Frontier Fund (#6792) at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

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