Marisa Naujokas, PhD, is the UCCCC scientific program administrator and lead organizer of PancMidwest.

Pancreatic cancer researchers from the Midwest enthusiastically convened at the University of Chicago for the first-ever PancMidwest Pancreatic Cancer Research Symposium on Friday, May 10, 2024. The symposium gathered 130 multidisciplinary researchers and physicians at the Rubenstein Forum on the University of Chicago campus, where they shared cutting-edge research and enriched collaborations in hopes of advancing new therapies for preventing, detecting and treating pancreatic cancer. The one-day event is the Midwestern region’s version of PancWest, a West Coast symposium that takes place at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

More than 66,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2024, with about 180 people diagnosed every day. Pancreatic cancer is predicted to surpass colorectal cancer as the second most deadly cancer after lung cancer by 2040 and remains among the most difficult to treat partly because it is often detected in late stages, and standard chemotherapy has had limited impact. The five-year survival rate is only 13%.

“Despite some progress, pancreatic cancer is still a largely intractable disease, so our collective research activities are very much needed to develop game-changing breakthroughs,” said Kay Macleod, PhD, Professor of Ben May Department of Cancer Research and Associate Director for Basic Sciences at the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center. “By bringing all this Midwest talent together, we are excited to build collaborative teams focused on making these breakthroughs.”

Jeffrey B. Matthews, MD, Dallas B. Phemister Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of Surgery at UChicago Medicine, presented a plenary talk on the current challenges that oncologists and surgeons face in treating people with pancreatic cancer. Symposium participants were also inspired to make scientific progress toward more effective and less challenging therapies by moving testimony from pancreatic cancer survivor, Robert Krull, who was previously treated at UChicago Medicine.

At PancMidwest, scientists were engaged and motivated as they discussed how to improve the detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer. Scientific sessions addressed how targeting components of the tumor microenvironment or altered tumor metabolism could be exploited for better therapies moving forward. Pancreatic cancer is a notoriously “cold” type of cancer with immune cells excluded from the tumor. Significant discussion was focused on how to promote immune cell targeting of the tumor directly or indirectly.  The exciting promise of KRas inhibitors was discussed with the realization that resistance mechanisms to these therapies are already emerging and how to best address this.

Other topics on the agenda included the challenge of pancreatic cancer metastasis to the liver versus the lungs and finally the role of diet, obesity and other systemic effects on pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality. Overall, PancMidwest scientists vigorously exchanged their research findings and ideas with an eye toward future research and collaborations to overcome these and other obstacles that pancreatic cancer patients face.

The symposium was conceived and planned by the University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC) Pancreatic Cancer Translational Group of Research Excellence (TGRE) consisting of Kay Macleod, PhD; Scott Oakes, MD; Simon Schwörer, PhD; Alex Muir, PhD; Christopher Weber, MD, PhD; Daria Esterhazy, PhD; and Ardaman Shergill, MD, with support from the Research Development Support office, within the Office of Research. UCCCC scientific program administrator Marisa Naujokas, PhD, was the lead organizer for the symposium.

The Pancreatic Cancer TGRE led discussions with symposium attendees to gather key questions in the field today and plan to synthesize the information to share with the broader pancreatic cancer research community.

The UCCCC was the lead sponsor, with additional support from the UChicago Departments of Surgery and Pathology, the Ben May Department for Cancer Research, and the Section of Hematology/Oncology. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network sponsored the keynote talk by Howard Crawford, PhD, director of the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center in Detroit, Michigan. The UCCCC administrative team

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