Pancreatic Cancer Research Dream Team

Research spotlight

A top scientist from the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University is helping to lead a pancreatic cancer research dream team tasked with finding ways to use a patient’s own immune cells to eradicate their cancers.

Lisa M. Coussens, Ph.D., associate director of basic research for the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, was selected in 2014 to serve as a principal investigator on the international team, which was formed by Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) and The Lustgarten Foundation. The team will receive $8 million in funding over three years.

What the appointment means

As part of the project, Coussens, who is also chair of the OHSU Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, will oversee a group of Knight Cancer contributors. These researchers will:

  • Analyze tumor tissue from all of the patients participating in the projects’ clinical trials
  • Provide a detailed profile of how each patient’s tumor responds to one of five experimental treatments included in the study based on the tumor tissue analysis
  • Explore how the immune cells implicated in pancreatic cancer also might play a role in pancreatitis
  • Build significant momentum for our exploration of the role of immune cells in enabling tumors to survive and grow.

Building on Coussens’ immune cell research

Pancreatic cancer is currently the fourth leading cause of death from cancer and is predicted to climb to the second leading cause of death by 2020. Eighty percent of cases aren’t diagnosed until the disease has progressed to late stages when it is difficult to treat.

Changing these statistics is a part of Knight Cancer’s mission. The SU2C dream team grant will build upon Coussen’s work as well as research under way by top OHSU pancreatic surgeons and Knight Cancer scientists who are collaborating through OHSU’s Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care to develop treatment methods for pancreatic cancer while also exploring the source of pancreatic diseases at the molecular level.

“Pancreatic cancer has been a particularly intractable form of the disease and we are optimistic that this concerted research effort will make a meaningful difference for patients,” said Brian Druker, M.D., director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Research dream teams

Along with Coussens, Knight Cancer researchers contributing to the Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team project are Adam Margolin, Ph.D.; Andrew Gunderson, Ph.D.; and Christopher Chan, Ph.D.; as well as graduate student Shannon Liudahl.

SU2C has awarded grants to 12 dream teams. Including Coussens, Knight Cancer has three top scientists involved in these world-class, multi-institutional projects:

  • Joe W. Gray, Ph.D., associate director for translational research at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, co-leads a breast cancer dream team focused on research for less toxic treatments for breast cancer.
  • Tomasz Beer, M.D., deputy director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, is one of six top scientists involved in a research dream team to study treatments for advanced prostate cancer.