Grand Rapids research organization to lead new pancreatic cancer study

Oct 21, 2012

The National Cancer Institute has chosen the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids to lead a new study on pancreatic cancer.

The NCI estimates 43,000 people in the U.S. will get pancreatic cancer in 2012; leading to 37,000 deaths.

Brian Haab Ph.D., Head of Van Andel Institute’s Laboratory of Cancer Immunodiagnostics, will head the research team.

Many times pancreatic cancer spreads to internal organs before people realize they have it and by then the prognosis is usually not so good. "It’s an aggressive disease. It doesn’t respond well to almost anything we’ve tried. Though there are individual cases that have worked out well,” Haab said.

He says pancreatic cancer is still hard to detect.

“It can be a long, expensive, and sometimes invasive process to do that and we want blood tests that can make it quick and inexpensive process,” Haab said.

Researchers in the five-year, $2.3 million project will try to find molecular “bio-markers” in blood samples from people who have the disease. If the markers can be identified, it could help doctors detect cancer early on with a blood test. Improving the accuracy of those tests may help people avoid surgeries they don’t need.

Pancreatic cancer has one of the poorest survival rates of any major cancer, so doctors hope early detection will help.

“The pancreas plays such an important role in the body and when there’s injury to the pancreas such as the presence of a tumor and inflammation that causes all kinds of secondary problems. I think that leads to the rapid decline of the patients,” Haab said.