Thanks to private funding, 100% of every dollar donated to The Lustgarten Foundation goes directly to pancreatic cancer research.
Milestones & Momentum

2016 Research Commitments

Our research commitments have reached a milestone of $125 million to date, and we continue to pursue them with dedication and energy, working towards our goal of finding a cure and increasing the number of survivors. To move our research forward, we have launched the Distinguished Scholars and Research Investigators programs. These initiatives fund prominent scientists who are pursuing high-risk, high-reward science to accelerate a path to a cure and are conducting research to improve how the disease is detected and treated. Their research has yielded significant progress and produced early results including these highlights:

A three-dimensional cell culture system, called an “organoid,” which allows pancreatic cancer to be grown from human tissue, was developed by David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D., who heads The Lustgarten Foundation’s Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. An organoid can be reproduced indefinitely in the laboratory and then available drugs can be tested to determine which one(s) have the best response for a particular patient, with the goal being to provide new, focused treatment options for a patient based on the tumor’s specific genetic mutations. To further the organoid research, the OPT (Organoids for Personalized Therapy) trial has been initiated and is the first of its kind using human pancreatic cancer organoids to impact clinical care.

The Lustgarten Foundation is sponsoring a clinical trial/research study testing the effectiveness of the immunotherapy drug Pembrolizumab* in patients whose tumors have a unique genetic mutation. This mutation is identified through testing of the tumor tissue for a characteristic genetic signature called “MSI” (microsatellite instability), which is found in approximately 2 percent of pancreatic cancer patients. A research study led by Bert Vogelstein, M.D., at Johns Hopkins University demonstrated that patients with a variety of advanced cancers whose tumors had this unique genetic signature responded to Pembrolizumab, even when other forms of therapy were not effective. Results of this initial study appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2015.

Julien Sage, Ph.D.

Julien Sage, Ph.D., Stanford University School of Medicine and Research Investigator, The Lustgarten Foundation

We are collaborating with Stand Up To Cancer on five research teams designed to tackle the disease using novel approaches, all with projects involving clinical trials during the three-year funding cycle. The convergence translational research team, which was recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal, brings together experts from different fields to combine their skills and knowledge to help solve medical problems and find insights into treating the disease. Led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Jeffrey A. Drebin, M.D., Ph.D., the team will conduct a clinical trial of Gemcitabine and Abraxane, which are standard of care treatments for pancreatic cancer patients, and synthetic vitamin D, followed by treatment with the cancer immunotherapy drug nivolumab that is currently FDA-approved for certain types of melanoma and lung cancer.

The work on vitamin D is based on recent research conducted by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies’ Ronald Evans, Ph.D., which found that in mice, a synthetic derivative of vitamin D could potentially delay pancreatic cancer tumor growth when combined with chemotherapy, resulting in a 57 percent increase in lifespan compared to chemotherapy alone. Dr. Evans is now conducting research to determine if late stage pancreatic cancer patients’ tumors have a vitamin D receptor in their metastases as well, which would make them eligible for treatment with synthetic vitamin D as part of their therapy.


*Pembrolizumab is not yet FDA approved for the treatment of MSI pancreatic cancer.

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