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Grant Jumpstarts Danbury Hospital's Pancreatic Cancer Study

Danbury Hospital of the Western Connecticut Health Network.
Danbury Hospital of the Western Connecticut Health Network. Photo Credit: File

DANBURY, Conn. -- Researchers at the Western Connecticut Health Network – which includes Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals – have announced a new study designed to yield insights into how to detect and treat pancreatic cancer.

WCHN researchers will focus on the potential development of biomarkers for pancreatic cancer from small, non-coding RNA molecules – ncRNA – genetic material that is present in the blood of patients with the disease.

It will be the first study to examine ncRNA in exosomes – small vessels – as a source of biomarkers for pancreatic cancer.

The research could lead to early diagnosis, determine which patients will benefit most from chemotherapy, and help to determine how well patients respond to treatment.

The study is being conducted by a team led by Richard Frank, director of clinical cancer research at Norwalk Hospital’s Whittingham Cancer Center and WCHN, along with Cristiano Ferlini, director of medical research at the WCHN Biomedical Research Institute and the Rudy and Sally Ruggles, chief of cancer research.

The seed funding for the project came from a $49,000 grant provided by the Ron Foley Foundation.

“We have developed a unique platform for analyzing non-coding RNA molecules in our laboratory,” said Ferlini. “Thanks to the Ron Foley Foundation, we will study changes over time in ncRNA in blood samples donated by pancreatic cancer patients at Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal malignancies, and we are eager to explore a novel approach to detecting it.”

Frank said the new study “exemplifies what is unique about the bench-to-bedside research conducted at WCHN, because it is based on unusually close collaboration between clinicians and basic scientists.”

Frank added that the main goal “is to develop new tools to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages and improve the treatment and management of this disease.”

Eighty percent of patients with pancreatic cancer in the U.S. die within a year after their diagnosis.

At present, there are no blood tests or radiological scans that can detect it in its early stages, and it is extremely difficult to determine how well patients respond to treatment.

The grant from the Foley Foundation, which is based in West Hartford, marks a promising beginning to Frank and Ferlini's project.

“When we visited Dr. Ferlini’s laboratory and spoke to him and Dr. Frank, we were impressed by the world-class facilities and by their passionate commitment to helping people with pancreatic cancer,” said Barbara Foley, president of the foundation. “We know funding for basic research is very hard to get, and hope that our gift will enhance WCHN’s ability to get more financial support for this exciting project.”

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