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Pancreatic Cancer Action Network-AACR Pathway to Leadership Grants awarded to early-career investigators

ORLANDO, Fla. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and the American Association for Cancer Research have awarded Jennifer M. Bailey, Ph.D., and E. Scott Seeley, M.D., Ph.D., the 2011 Pancreatic Cancer Action NetworkAACR Pathway to Leadership Grants. These grants, each totaling $600,000 over five years, will be formally awarded at the AACR 102nd Annual Meeting 2011, held April 2-6.

"Because of the poor prognoses and limited treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients, there is a great urgency to accelerate promising research in this area," said Margaret Foti, Ph.D., M.D. (h.c.), chief executive officer of the AACR. "These grants, awarded in partnership with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, encourage gifted young researchers whose projects could lead to breakthroughs that will help us better prevent, detect and treat pancreatic cancer."

"The Pathway to Leadership grants represent a substantial commitment to building a comprehensive research community and advancing discoveries that will extend the lives of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We are honored to welcome Dr. Jennifer Bailey and Dr. Scott Seeley into our network of esteemed researchers," stated Julie Fleshman, J.D., M.B.A., president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. "Currently, the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is just 6 percent. The research community and the work of Drs. Bailey and Seeley are integral parts of our goal to double the survival rate of pancreatic cancer by 2020."

The Pathway to Leadership Grant, intended for postdoctoral or clinical research fellows, parallels the highly coveted K99/R00 early-career investigator awards offered by the National Institutes of Health. Recipients receive financial support for two years of mentored research followed by three years of independent research. Funding decisions for the Pathway to Leadership Grant are made by an outside committee of experts in pancreatic cancer using a rigorous and transparent process. Importantly, in addition to receiving research funds, grant recipients are provided with career development opportunities. These include mentorships and connections with senior scientists in the field; invitations to present at scientific sessions, lead conference workshops and participate in training and educational webinars; site visits to mentor laboratories to learn new techniques and skills; involvement with pancreatic cancer survivors and their caregivers; and resources to keep them apprised of emerging developments in the field.

This year's Pathway to Leadership Grant recipients are:

  • Jennifer M. Bailey, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

For the initial, mentored phase of Bailey's project, she will work in the laboratories of Steven D. Leach, M.D., and Anirban Maitra, M.D. Maitra received the 2004 AACR-Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Career Development Award, and both organizations are proud to see him now in a position to mentor another young scientist.

Bailey's project, Stop the Start: Novel Insights into PanIN Initiation and Progression, pursues sophisticated studies of the earliest events in pancreatic cancer initiation and progression.

More than 90 percent of pancreatic cancer patients have mutations in a protein called KRAS. Because the exact cell of origin for pancreatic cancer has not been defined, Bailey will develop a "next generation" mouse model of early pancreatic cancer formation, engineering different cell types in the pancreas to express mutated KRAS. Utilizing a fluorescent label attached only to cells with activated KRAS, Bailey will be able to visualize and isolate pancreas cells at various time points following KRAS activation. This way, she can study the effects of mutant KRAS activation in cells before the formation of the earliest known stage of pancreatic cancer development, the pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasm, or PanIN.

Bailey hypothesizes that, even before PanIN formation, activation of KRAS will fundamentally change pancreas cells, leading to increased growth and altered cellular characteristics. By studying the very earliest steps of pancreatic cancer development, Bailey's work can shed light on novel ways to detect or treat the disease, before it has progressed to a more aggressive stage.

  • E. Scott Seeley, M.D., Ph.D., clinical and postdoctoral fellow, Stanford University

Seeley works primarily in the laboratory of Maxence V. Nachury, Ph.D. Nachury was the recipient of the 2009 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network AACR Career Development Award, in memory of Larry Kwicinski. Nachury's funding period will expire as Seeley's begins, allowing seamless financial support for important pancreatic cancer research.

Seeley's project, Transport Proteins as Modifiers of Oncogenic Signaling in Pancreatic Cancer, represents efforts to define alternative strategies for limiting the effects of cancer-causing cellular signaling.

Transport proteins control the activities of proteins that cause cancer by positioning them either where they can promote cell growth or where they can be shut off. Seeley has found that a protein transport system called intraflagellar transport (IFT) determines the outcome of pancreatic cancer-causing mutations in mice. When the amount of IFT protein is decreased, the rate of pancreatic cancer formation in mice more than doubles. However, when IFT genes are completely missing, mice prone to pancreatic cancer develop only benign, non-lethal cysts. Fittingly, he finds that while decreases in IFT are frequent in human cases of pancreatic cancer, complete losses of IFT genes are very rare.

Because IFT is known to regulate the activities of several important cancer-causing signaling pathways by functioning in a cellular antenna known as the primary cilium, his findings suggest that interrupting IFT function may block pancreatic cancer progression. Thus, Seeley's proposed project will determine whether the loss of these IFT proteins can inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer that is already established, and lead to a better understanding of the role of IFT in pancreatic cancer development.

The goals of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network AACR grants program are to build a robust pancreatic cancer research community, to encourage collaboration, information-sharing and innovation, and to expedite scientific and medical breakthroughs for patient benefit.


Contact: Michele Sharp
American Association for Cancer Research

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