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Eliminating racial barriers in genetic testing: Dana-Farber receives innovative pancreatic cancer research grants

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) awards more than $10.5 million in research grants, marking largest ever single-year investment

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), a leading nonprofit in the fight against pancreatic cancer, announced today the recipients of its 2022 research grants program. This year, $10.5 million will be awarded for 16 new grants and PanCAN will extend funding to nine past grantees to continue their highly promising research projects. Three Dana-Farber Cancer Institute researchers are among the recipients. This research investment is the organization’s largest ever in a single year. Along with its transformational scientific and clinical initiatives, including the PanCAN Precision PromiseSM adaptive clinical trial and PanCAN’s Early Detection Initiative, the organization’s total research investment was $25 million last year.

As the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and with a five-year survival rate of just 11%, pancreatic cancer demands urgent action to save lives. There is currently no standard early detection test for pancreatic cancer and few effective treatments are available, making the ongoing funding of innovative research crucial to solving this challenging disease.

Sapna Syngal, MD, MPH, the Director of Research at the Center for Cancer Genetics and Prevention at Dana-Farber was granted a PanCAN Catalyst Award as principal investigator of the REGENERATE study. REGENERATE, known as the Racial/ethnic Equity in GENetic Education, Risk Assessment and TEsting study, is a 3-phase study that aims to evaluate communities with systemic barriers regarding genetic testing to further identify and educate those most at risk. The study aims to build trust within historically marginalized communities on a deeper level through individualized focus groups and community stakeholders, known as “community leaders.” By understanding barriers and working to eliminate them, REGENERATE hopes to promote earlier detection, identify genetic carriers, and increase diversity of care.

“The PanCAN grant and PanCAN’s community-based advocacy is essential,” said Syngal. “They’re a community-based advocacy organization with a strong interest in engaging with the community and promoting diversity in care. This aligns with our research goals to bring racial and ethnic equity to genetic education and testing in pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer incidences in mortality are higher in Blacks and slightly higher in Hispanics than in whites, so there’s a real need for this research.”

Nicolette Rodriguez, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Cancer Genetics and Prevention Division at Dana-Farber, is the REGENERATE project lead. She is also a recipient of a PanCAN Catalyst Award. Rodriguez focuses her clinical care research on assessing access to cancer genetics and prevention among Black and Latino/a/x populations.

The REGENERATE project is partially supported by Jansen Research & Development, LLC.

Additionally, Andrew Aguirre, MD, PhD, a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at Dana-Farber, received a PanCAN Therapeutic Accelerator Collaborative Award (TAA). Aguirre’s group will work to investigate genetic and non-genetic mechanisms of response or resistance to the therapeutic combination of RAF/MEKi inhibition and FAK inhibition in pancreatic cancer. The team will use patient-derived organoid models to identify patterns of genetic alterations or gene expression changes that influence response to these therapies and may be used as biomarkers to stratify patients onto effective treatment in the future.

About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) leads the way in accelerating critical progress for pancreatic cancer patients. PanCAN takes bold action by funding life-saving research, providing personalized patient services and creating a community of supporters and volunteers who will stop at nothing to create a world in which all pancreatic cancer patients will thrive. 

*This press release was adapted from a press release issued by PanCAN.

Posted on August 03, 2022

  • Inclusion, Diversity & Equity
  • Andrew Aguirre, MD, PhD
  • Research
  • Sapna Syngal, MD, MPH
  • Pancreatic Cancer

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