Erica Cardenas

UA awarded national grant

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The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the University of Arizona (UA) have received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) to study targeted cancer therapies.

The grant will enable TGen and the UA to continue its NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies (NCTCT), created in 2002, which is dedicated to discovering new therapies to treat pancreatic cancer, the nation’s fourth leading cause of cancer death.

“This NFCR grant should provide renewed hope for pancreatic cancer patients,” said Dr. Daniel von Hoff, the Center’s physician-in-chief. “This should help us move closer to better treatments and hopefully a cure for this devastating disease.” 

Researchers at NCTCT have developed new therapies that block the growth of pancreatic cancer cells by interfering with the molecules that promote pancreatic cancer cells, an approach called targeted cancer therapy. While traditional chemotherapeutic drugs impair cell division in a general way, targeted therapies specifically kill cancer cells and leave normal cells unharmed, resulting in enhanced cancer-killing power and fewer side effects.

“If we can create the right drug to turn on the right gene to turn off the cancer, that is going to be a whole new approach to treating this disease,” said NFCR president, Franklin C. Salisbury, Jr. “This is 21st century medicine. Not only do we need to support this research, but the world needs to know that we are on our way to curing cancer.”

Nearly 44,000 Americans were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2011; and more than 37,000 died last year from this aggressive disease, which kills most patients within the first year. The pancreas is a gland behind the stomach that secretes enzymes into the small intestine to help digestion and produce hormones. There are no early detection methods available, so the cancer usually is not found until it is in an advanced stage.

Since 1973, NFCR has provided more than $288 million in support of discovery-oriented cancer research focused on understanding how and why cells become cancerous, and on public education relating to cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

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