SBP Collaborates with NIH’s Translational Science Center on pancreatic cancer

| Written by sgammon
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The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) has initiated a novel collaborative study with Pamela Itkin-Ansari, PhD., to screen for drugs that reprogram pancreatic cancer cells back to a normal, non-threatening phenotype. The collaboration is based on Itkin-Ansari’s research and development of a screening platform to find drugs that induce the overexpression of E47, a protein that binds to specific DNA sequences, causing cells to differentiate to acinar cells—cells with normal pancreatic cell traits and characteristics.

“I’m delighted to be working with NCATS on a project that may lead to better treatments for pancreatic cancer patients,” said Itkin-Ansari, adjunct professor in the Development, Aging, and Regeneration Program at SBP. “The Center will be screening novel compounds as well as approved drugs that can be repurposed, potentially accelerating the clinical development process due to their known safety profiles and characterized mechanisms.”

The outlook for patients with pancreatic cancer is very poor. Among people diagnosed with the disease, 80 percent are dead within the first year, and 90 percent the year after that. And pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially in 40 years.

One reason pancreatic cancer is so deadly is that there are no good detection tools to diagnose the disease in the early stages, so by the time most patients are diagnosed the cancer has spread to the liver or other areas of the body. Another reason is that there are really no good treatments—response to chemotherapy and radiation is poor.

NCATS was established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to transform the translational science process so that new therapies for disease can be delivered to patients faster. For drug discovery collaborations, the Center works with academic investigators that are biology and disease experts that have demonstrated a novel approach, a primary screening platform that they can adapt, and a follow-up critical path for the project.

Dr. Itkin-Ansari pointed out that technical guidance provided by the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics at SBP was instrumental in validation of her screening platform. “Their experience in developing high throughput screening assays, such as the one that will be used in this collaboration, is unparalleled in the nonprofit research sector” said Itkin-Ansari.

“NCATS has a history of success in novel therapeutic approaches and I’m hopeful that our collaboration will result in identification of a proof-of-concept compound for advancing studies on reprogramming as an intervention for pancreatic cancer.”

The research will be funded by the Marian and Ralph Falk Medical Research Trust.

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Pamela Itkin-Ansari


National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences