Johns Hopkins Medicine
Office of Corporate Communications
Media contact: David March
March 10, 2005
GOLDMAN FAMILY TRUST TO FUND NEW PANCREATIC CANCER RESEARCH CENTER AT HOPKINS
Cancer specialists at Johns Hopkins today announced the start of a collaborative research initiative focused on developing novel means of earlier diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer, which kills nearly 31,000 Americans each year and has one of the lowest survival rates for any type of cancer. With $10 million in funding from the Sol Goldman Charitable Trust, a New York-based philanthropy with historic ties to Baltimore, the new initiative will support a team of more than 12 faculty and young researchers.
“Pancreatic cancer kills most patients within five years of their diagnosis, and most of them within one to two years, yet research has been chronically underfunded,” says pathologist Ralph Hruban, M.D., a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Hopkins’ Kimmel Cancer Center, who will lead the research effort. “With support from the Goldman Trust, our team of young and established researchers will advance our understanding of this mercurial form of cancer, which is largely unresponsive to existing and conventional therapies of surgery and chemotherapy. Our hope is that the discoveries made by this team will also benefit patients fighting other forms of cancer.”
The newly endowed center will be named the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center. Hruban says the Hopkins research will focus on “out of the box” ideas, such as research therapies targeting a specific patient’s cancer, use of “cutting-edge” gene chip technology, and research into the early detection of pancreatic cancer using proteomic and genetic biomarkers, or small biological signals from blood or tissue samples that amplify a cell’s DNA. The researchers also plan to use the National Familial Pancreas Tumor Registry, which is based at Hopkins and contains more than 1,400 family samples, to find the gene or genes responsible for the 10 percent of pancreatic cancers that are family related.
“The gift also enables us to address the irony that while pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths each year in the United States, research into its causes and cures receives very little funding: less than 1 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s budget,” Hruban notes.
“The Sol Goldman Charitable Trust is very pleased to invest in this team of pancreatic cancer researchers, in memory of my mother, Lillian, who died of the illness in 2002,” said Jane Goldman, Sol and Lillian’s daughter, and trustee of the Goldman Trust. “By partnering with this team of Johns Hopkins scientists, we hope to attract new faculty and young researchers into this less-studied field of research, and we know that this initiative will carry on into the future as others follow suit.
“This new research center fits into my parents’ understanding of what it took to build an enterprise that could grow beyond any one lifetime, and we predict its results will benefit future generations of pancreatic cancer patients.”
For more than one decade, the Hopkins team has been dedicated to pancreatic cancer research. Discoveries made at Johns Hopkins include a gene, called DPC4, involved in half of all cases of pancreatic cancer, the development of a vaccine to treat patients with pancreatic cancer and, more recently, the identification of which genes are specifically made at high levels by pancreatic cancer cells.
The complex Whipple procedure, the surgical procedure most often performed to remove pancreatic cancer tumors, was also perfected at Hopkins and offers one of the most effective treatments for operable pancreatic cancer. Indeed, one Hopkins oncologic surgeon, John Cameron, M.D., former chairman of the Department of Surgery, has performed more than 1,000 Whipple procedures, more than any other surgeon in the United States.
Hruban’s own work has tried to uncover the origins of pancreatic cancer. In 2003, his team at Hopkins found that pancreatic cancers arise from smaller precancers, called precursor lesions, much like colon cancers arise from colon polyps. The researchers believe that these precursors are a first step to initiating the cancer.
Most people diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer are between the ages of 60 and 80, and there are only rare cases in people under age 40. There are no screening tests yet available to determine who is mostly at risk for developing it. The pancreas is a long, thin gland located near the stomach. It produces a number of hormones, such as insulin, and enzymes essential to the body’s digestion of food.
Including this most recent gift, commitments to the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World campaign total more than $1.65 billion, more than 82 percent of the $2 billion goal. Priorities of the fund-raising campaign, which benefits both The Johns Hopkins University and The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, include strengthening endowment for student aid and faculty support; advancing research, academic and clinical initiatives; and building and upgrading facilities on all campuses. The campaign began in July 2000 and is scheduled to end in 2007.