On Thursday evening, May 12, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Pancreatic Cancer Special Conference kicked off in beautiful Orlando, Fla.

This meeting takes place every other year, and this is its third occurrence. We have been a lead supporter for all three instances of the meeting.

The conference opened with a riveting speech by Julie Fleshman, our president and CEO, followed by remarks from the executive director of the Lustgarten Foundation (also a lead supporter) and inspiring comments from a patient.

Central Florida affiliate members joined members of our staff for the opening session and reception.

Central Florida affiliate members joined members of our staff for the opening session and reception.

The opening session keynote address was delivered by Andrew Biankin, MBBS, PhD, from University of Glasgow. Dr. Biankin spoke eloquently about the importance of precision, or personalized, medicine, for the treatment of pancreatic cancer patients.

Also, local volunteer leaders from the Central Florida affiliate attended the session and subsequent reception. It was a wonderful opportunity to expose our volunteers to the science taking place in the field and to members of the research community, and for us to say “thank you” for all that our volunteers across the country do for the organization and cause.

The excitement and momentum from Thursday evening continued today, our first full day at the conference.

The morning began with presentations about pancreatic cancer epidemiology, or understanding patterns of disease occurrence, and identifying risk factors for the disease. Among the prestigious lineup of speakers was Gloria Petersen, PhD, member of our Scientific and Medical Advisory Board (SMAB), who spoke about genetic and non-genetic factors that could influence an individual’s risk of developing the disease.

This morning, Julie Fleshman and SMAB member, Diane Simeone, MD, hosted a breakfast roundtable discussion for attendees interested in learning more about our initiatives and opportunities.

This morning, Julie Fleshman and SMAB member, Diane Simeone, MD, hosted a breakfast roundtable discussion for attendees interested in learning more about our initiatives and opportunities.

The scientific topic then shifted to early detection – a key subject considering that the vast majority of pancreatic cancer cases are not diagnosed until the disease has already spread to other organs, and that patients have a much higher likelihood of a positive outcome when the disease is detected earlier.

In the afternoon, we were intrigued to learn more about the biology of pancreatic tumor initiation and metastatic spread. Speakers included Channing Der, PhD, two-time research grant recipient and member of our SMAB. He spoke about KRAS, a protein mutated in 95 percent of pancreatic cancer cases, and ways to directly or indirectly block its cancer-driving activity.

Jennifer Bailey, PhD, was also invited to speak in this session about her key data explaining which types of cells within the pancreas have the highest likelihood of becoming cancerous. Dr. Bailey is in her fifth and final year funded by our prestigious Pathway to Leadership Grant, which supported her successful transition from a postdoctoral fellowship to an independent assistant professor position.

All of the sessions today led to robust discussion among the attendees of the meeting, with many thought-provoking questions and opportunities to build collaboration.

The conference is taking place in beautiful, sunny Orlando, Fla.

The conference is taking place in beautiful, sunny Orlando, Fla.

The afternoon was capped off by an innovative presentation by Eileen O’Reilly, MD, also a member of our SMAB. Dr. O’Reilly spoke about using biomarkers, or clues present in a patient’s tumor specimen, blood or other samples, to direct personalized treatment approaches for that patient.

And finally, attendees gathered for an evening reception and poster session, highlighting even more exciting scientific progress in the field of pancreatic cancer.

It has been an exhausting and enlightening day and a half, and we’re looking forward to learning even more tomorrow!

For live updates from the meeting, follow staff members Allison Rosenzweig, PhD, and Lola Rahib, PhD, as well as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network national account and #AACRPanCa16.