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Researcher Story: Channing Der, PhD

10/25/2012
In the early 1980s, I was honored to be a part of the scientific team that discovered the Ras oncogene in human cancer. When activated, oncogenes function to directly promote the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells, and maintain the unregulated growth of cancer cells. In the over 30 years since this discovery, many other scientists and I have continued to study and scrutinize the expression, activation, and role of Ras and the protein signaling pathways that it stimulates in normal and cancer cells.

A new direction in treating cancer is what’s known as “targeted therapies.” These novel treatment strategies involve attacking features specific to the cancer cells, in hopes of more effectively killing the cancer cells and minimizing the unpleasant side effects that come from harming normal, growing cells within the body. A particularly attractive way to target therapy at cancer cells is to block signaling generated from oncogenes.

A few years ago, I decided that it was time for me to redirect some of my scientific focus from studying Ras, to attacking it. I needed to choose a cancer type to study, and pancreatic cancer was a very logical selection: a Ras family member, K-Ras, is known to be mutated and active in over 90 percent of pancreatic cancer cases.

With the support from my Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Innovative Grant, generously funded by Tempur-Pedic and their valued retailers, I am able to pursue a novel method of turning off signaling generated from K-Ras in pancreatic tumors. Since K-Ras itself has proven to be an elusive target, I am directing my efforts at attacking a protein that gets indirectly activated by K-Ras signaling. We are hopeful that targeting this surrogate protein will disarm K-Ras and slow the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.

Even though my funded period only began a few months ago, I’ve already had the opportunity to attend several events to interact with the amazing Pancreatic Cancer Action Network community. June of this year was an especially exciting month: the American Association for Cancer Research hosted the first special conference devoted to pancreatic cancer, and the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network served as the lead supporter. I was amazed by the attendance at the meeting and the caliber of research presented. From there, I attended the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s annual Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. It was inspirational to see so many people devoted to knowing, fighting, and ending pancreatic cancer.

I am very grateful to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and Tempur-Pedic and their valued retailers for their support of my research endeavors. It is a privilege to be included in the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network family, and I am committed to doing my part as we work towards doubling the survival rate of pancreatic cancer by 2020.

Channing Der, PhD
Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Pharmacology, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill



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