Sana Karam, MD, PhD

Bob Bast Translational Research Grant*

Pancreatic cancer is deadly. The only treatment that can cure it is surgery to fully remove the tumor, but that is only an option when the cancer is caught early, which is rare. Radiation to shrink the tumor before surgery has been tried, but with little benefit. By studying both patient and mouse models, we discovered that while radiation can kill cancer cells and stimulate some good immune cells, it also can make the environment harsh, help cancer cells escape, and bring in some bad immune cells. It can also scar the tumor, making surgery harder. In lab studies, we found a molecule called STAT3 that enables radiation’s negative effects. When we blocked STAT3 in mice, we harvested the radiation’s good effects while blocking its bad ones. In this proposal, we are testing a pill for patients to take with radiation that blocks STAT3. This is the first time it is combined with radiation to treat pancreatic cancer in humans. In liver cancer, this drug was so effective that the FDA has prioritized it for trials. In our proposed trial, we will collect blood and tissue from pancreatic cancer patients before and after the pill and radiation and study how this combination affects the tumor and the patients’ immune system. We hope to develop a test that predicts patient response to the STAT3 blocker with radiation combo and to identify other ways the cancer cells escape.

Location: University of Colorado Cancer Center - Aurora
Proposal: Overcoming therapeutic resistance to radiation therapy in pancreatic cancer with STAT3 inhibition

*The Adult Translational research project that receives the highest rating by the Scientific Advisory Committee is annually designated as the Bob Bast Translational Research Grant. Bob Bast, M.D. chaired the V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) for over 20 years and continues to serve on the SAC and Board.
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