'Marley Team' seeks to develop early pancreatic cancer screening tools

January 9, 2018 | by Stephanie Smith

City of Hope & TGen Advanced Pancreatic Cancer Imaging Study Members of the newly-formed “Marley Team” following a recent meeting at City of Hope.
The positioning of the pancreas – which is nestled between organs such as the stomach, spleen, liver and gall bladder – makes early cancer detection difficult. The six-inch long organ is virtually hidden on most imaging studies and, as a consequence, pancreatic cancer tends to be diagnosed late.

A multi-institutional partnership, funded in part by a grant from the Kemper and Ethyl Marley Foundation, is designed to change that.

Several institutions, including researchers from City of Hope, Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), HonorHealth, Imaging Endpoints and the Mayo Clinic are collaborating on a strategy they describe as a “mammogram” for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer takes a long time to develop, and if it takes a long time to develop there is a chance for earlier detection,” said Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., physician-in-chief at TGen and the overall study lead. “What we need is a ‘mammogram’ for pancreatic cancer.”
 
Developing sensitive screening tools for such an elusive cancer will involve using several advanced technologies – including CT, MRI and PET scanning, to measure the cancer’s progress – and measuring biomarkers important to the disease process.

Patients receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer will be enrolled in the study and followed over time, and imaging studies will reveal features such as the texture, volume, vascularity – and ultimately, the behavior – of their tumors.

Over time, the data gathered will be consolidated into a screening tool researchers hope will operate similarly to mammograms for breast cancer – revealing more information about how pancreatic cancer develops.

This is about a talented group actively working to detect pancreatic cancer in the earliest stages,” said Syed Rahmanuddin, M.D., head of the 3D Oncologic Imaging Center at City of Hope and the leader of the study arm at this institution.

“We are calling ourselves the 'Marley Team' to recognize the importance of the foundation’s funding and how it will advance this research.”

Other members of the research team include Ron Korn, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO of Imaging Endpoints who will perform textural analysis to define tumor integrity; Erkut Borazanci, M.D., M.S., an oncologist at HonorHealth; William Boswell, M.D., chair of diagnostic radiology at City of Hope; and Stephanie K. Carlson, M.D., an associate professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic, who will analyze tumors using a technology called hyperpolarized MRI.

For his part, Rahmanuddin is using advanced three-dimensional imaging techniques to extract precise information about the volume of pancreatic tumors.

“I’m looking at the density of the tumor, the mass of the tumor, the volume of the tumor, as well as the vascularity to incorporate with imaging biomarkers,” said Rahmanuddin. “I’m looking inside the tumor to see exactly how much information we can get.”

In addition to funding from the Marley Foundation and others, Rahmanuddin is dedicating monies he received as part of his Young Innovator Award from the Circle of Service Foundation to advance this and other pancreatic cancer research.
 
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