The Hirshberg Foundation remains a key partner in UCLA’s pancreatic cancer program. The UCLA Agi Hirshberg Center for Pancreatic Diseases is a world-class integrated practice unit where researchers and physicians work together to advance the understanding and treatment of pancreatic cancer while being able to bring improved therapies directly to patients. Thanks to the generosity of the Hirshberg Foundation and our donors, the UCLA Hirshberg Center team was able to continue advancing research, share their discoveries with the scientific and patient communities, and make progress toward a world free from pancreatic cancer.
Each year, UCLA provides the Hirshberg Foundation with a detailed report of the progress that is possible thanks to our partnership. Below are updates on the important work taking place at UCLA.
UC Pancreatic Cancer Consortium
The UC Pancreatic Cancer Consortium (UCPCC) brings together the five UC campuses with medical schools – Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco – to unite pancreatic cancer scientists and clinicians in order to accelerate the progress and impact of their work. This highly collaborative model seeks to improve the lives of persons diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by translating innovative research into improved clinical care.
Clinical Trials for Treatment
Patients seen through the Hirshberg Center’s Integrated Practice Unit (IPU) in Westwood have access to an array of treatment options including robust slate of 14 clinical trials, 5 of which are currently enrolling patients. One such trial tests the use of NGM120, a long-acting monoclonal antibody, in combination with other therapies in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer. Another trial evaluates GRT-C903 and GRT-R904, a neoantigen-based therapeutic cancer vaccine, in combination with immune checkpoint blockade, in patients with pancreatic and other cancers. Living with Pancreatic Cancer, run by Dr. Annette Stanton, seeks to identify the psychological and social factors that help people living with the disease and partners/primary caregivers maintain their quality of life. These clinical trials not only help advance understanding of this disease, but they also offer patients and their families hope for better treatment options.
Ronald S. Hirshberg Chair in Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research
Dr. J. Enrique Rozengurt holds the Ronald S. Hirshberg Chair in Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research and remains one of the globe’s most vital medical researchers. He is Distinguished Professor of Medicine in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Chief of Research in the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, and a pioneer in the areas of signal transduction and cell growth regulation.
Over the past year, Dr. Rozengurt and his colleagues have found that statins potently block YAP-regulated genes in pancreatic cells and that various statins inhibit the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) cells when acting synergistically with metformin, an FDA-approved medication for Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes and other conditions. Dr. Rozengurt’s team is investigating whether a low-dose combination of metformin and statins can work in harmony to slow the production of pancreatic cancer cells, which may help to arrest the spread of pancreatic cancer. The use of metformin as a potential inhibitor of pancreas tumor growth has the possibility of rapid translation because of metformin’s already widespread use.
UCLA Pancreas Tissue Bank
David Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, continues to oversee the UCLA Pancreas Tissue Bank. The Tissue Bank provides invaluable pathologic consultations to colleagues at UCLA, as well as collaborating with pancreatic researchers nationally and internationally. The bank continues to grow as Dr. Dawson accrues additional snap frozen and viable tissue samples from patients, archival clinical materials, and large tissue microarrays of pancreatic tumors. Support from the Hirshberg Foundation plays a key role in enabling Dr. Dawson to provide tissue samples and offer his expertise in pathology to his collaborators, creating a multiplier effect as resources and support at UCLA benefit the wider pancreatic research community. Dr. Dawson is also primary investigator for the pathology core of the UC Pancreatic Cancer Consortium, which collaborates across five UC campuses to accelerate the progress and impact of pancreatic cancer.
Ronald S. Hirshberg Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory
The Ronald S. Hirshberg Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory, helmed by Guido Eibl, M.D., Professor, Department of Surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, investigates the connection between inflammation, diet, and obesity in pancreatic cancer. Dr. Eibl and his team continue to make tremendous progress on their $5.75 million five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the impact of obesity on pancreatic cancer development, as well as the effect of treatment with statins, both alone and in combination with metformin. Drs. Eibl and Rozengurt continue to collaborate on additional projects as well, including a study investigating the role that the combination of obesity and stress have on pancreatic cancer development. As stress, particularly social stress, affects the lives of more and more individuals, it is vital to study its effects on pancreatic cancer risk. Dr. Eibl and his team continue to drive research towards a greater understanding of how this disease develops, with actionable ways to limit risk and slow the development of pancreatic cancer.
Psychosocial Care Via the Simms/Mann–UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology
Under the direction of Kauser Ahmed, Ph.D., Darcie Denkert Notkin Director of Psychosocial Oncology, the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology remains a key part of UCLA Health’s multifaceted approach to providing cancer patients with holistic care. When longtime clinical psychologist and pancreatic cancer patient liaison Elizabeth Cleary, Ph.D., transitioned into a remote role, Greg Flaxman, L.C.S.W., M.P.H., stepped in to ensure that pancreatic cancer patients continued to receive all the center’s integrative care options. Mr. Flaxman has an active part in counseling patients after their diagnosis to help craft personalized psychosocial care plans as they prepare for surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments. He helps patients with pancreatic cancer and their families navigate their care and connects them to resources that will ease the challenges of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The Simms/Mann team is dedicated to providing guidance and support through the cancer journey, with pancreatic cancer patients averaging nearly nine interactions during the course of their treatment. The Simms/Mann Center experienced a nearly 13 percent increase in the number of pancreatic cancer patient encounters in 2021, further proof of the team’s value to a vulnerable population. In addition, the growth of telehealth throughout the pandemic has coincided with the geographic growth of the Simms/Mann Center, which now offers services at 19 UCLA hematology/oncology clinics across Southern California, increasing opportunities for patients to easily access crucial psychosocial services at locations closer to home. Pancreatic cancer continues to be one of the most difficult diagnoses for patients to receive, and the generosity of the Hirshberg Foundation allows the Simms/Mann Center to keep these patients’ particular needs at the forefront of the work they do.
The Hirshberg Foundation’s partnership with UCLA has created a premiere pancreatic cancer center with cutting-edge research and world-class care that draws patients from across the country. Together we are making progress toward improved treatments, outcomes, and quality of life for patients with pancreatic cancer. The past 25 years have laid the groundwork, now we are ready to watch research accelerate and discoveries compound to bring new hope to families and better outcomes to patients.
Read the full summary here.