Press Release 6/22/09

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JUNE 22, 2009



Watch Video Abstract of Study Here

EL SEGUNDO, CA – (August 7, 2009) – A team of cancer researchers, including three funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, has demonstrated the importance of the Notch signaling pathway in the progression of pancreatic cancer by using genetically modified mice as the test platform, according to a study published in the Gastroenterology journal in 2009.

The three grant recipients of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network include Aram Hezel, MD, and Nabeel Bardeesy, PhD, both from Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, and Ben Stanger, PhD, from University of Pennsylvania. The researchers used genetically altered mice predisposed to pancreatic cancer in early life to study the role of the Notch signaling pathway at the beginning of the disease. The Notch signaling pathway is important during embryonic development and is normally inactive in most adult cells. However, research shows that genes that constitute the Notch pathway get reactivated at high levels in pancreatic cancer. At a stage when the mice were poised to develop tumors, the animals were treated with a chemical inhibitor of the Notch pathway. While animals treated with placebos developed pancreatic cancer with the expected frequency, those treated with the inhibitor did not. In fact, more than one third of the mice in the control group developed pancreatic cancer while none of the treated group developed pancreatic cancer.

“Although the study was designed as a prevention trial rather than a treatment trial, and the work was done using mice, the results were dramatic and suggest that during the emergence of pancreatic cancer, cells must receive input from the Notch signaling pathway,” Dr. Stanger said.

“These findings are in the early stages and are not immediately applicable to human pancreatic cancer,” added Dr. Bardeesy. “We hope to extend this work to determine whether inhibiting the Notch pathway is effective in animals with existing tumors.”

“We are thrilled that this multi-institutional study involved the collaboration of several of our grantees,” stated Julie Fleshman, president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. “Our Grants Program is designed to not only provide financial resources to support pancreatic cancer research, but to encourage partnerships, information-sharing, and innovation. The efforts of this research team illustrate the potential progress that can be made when scientific minds come together. We look forward to their continued efforts and findings.”

An overview of the study findings is presented by Dr. Stanger in a video abstract developed for the American Gastroenterological Association Institute. The video can be accessed at

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States. This year, more than 42,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and more than 35,000 will die. Currently, no early detection methods and few treatment options exist for patients.

Since the inception of its Research Grants Program in 2003, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has awarded close to 50 grants totaling approximately $5 million. The 2010 Grants Program will be launched this summer and will result in the distribution of an additional $2 million in research funding. For more information about the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and its Research Grants Program visit

About the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is the only national organization creating hope in a comprehensive way through research, patient support, community outreach and advocacy for a cure. The organization raises money for direct private funding of research—and advocates for more aggressive federal research funding of medical breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network fills the void of information and options by giving patients and caregivers reliable, personalized information they need to make informed decisions. We create a sense of hope and community so no one has to face pancreatic cancer alone. The organization helps support individuals and communities all across the country to work together to raise awareness and funds to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.


Jennifer Rosen
Senior Manager, Public Relations
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Direct: 310-706-3362


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