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Ronald DePinho, M.D., selected for prestigious Agilent Technologies Thought Leader Award

HOUSTON Pancreatic cancer is one the deadliest and hardest to treat cancers. In recognition of his leadership of an innovative translational research program targeted at pancreatic cancer, Ronald DePinho, M.D., president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, was selected for the prestigious Agilent Thought Leader Award.

The Thought Leader Award recognizes researchers whose discoveries represent fundamental advances in the life sciences. DePinho, one of only three awardees in 2012, was selected for his research into pancreatic cancer metabolomics. To further promote DePinho's work, the award provides instrumentation and support to examine the metabolic flux that occurs in the earliest stages of the cancer.

Metabolomics analyzes the physiology of the cell, providing a snapshot of cellular energy stores, as well as metabolic precursors and products. Unlocking and targeting the secrets of the cancer metabolism is a powerful therapeutic strategy, as metabolism is a critical cellular process inherent to cancer cell survival.

DePinho's lab recently reported in the journal Cell a study that leverages metabolomic and transcriptome analysis. This work was the first to link a genetic mutation in the Kras gene to both pancreatic cancer initiation and the subsequent manipulation of metabolic pathways that support tumor growth and progression.

Altered cellular metabolism has long been acknowledged as a hallmark of cancer, but until recently technology couldn't identify discrete and targetable metabolic transformations, aberrations unique to cancer cells. Cancer cells have radically different metabolic properties from the tissue of origin. They require more energy and cellular building blocks to support not only rapid growth, but also survival, as they face harsh conditions from cellular assaults.

DePinho's research group, along with scientists from MD Anderson's Institute for Applied Cancer Science (IACS), will employ the Agilent's instrumentation and software provided to uncover in an unbiased manner alterations in metabolic flux that occur in pancreatic cancer. These discoveries may lead to the identification of biomarkers for the early detection of pancreatic cancer and serve as the basis for developing novel drugs. In fact, IACS currently has multiple metabolism-centric drug discovery programs under way, which will be enhanced by the increased capabilities in metabolomics.

"I'm honored to receive this award," says DePinho. "I've had a long-standing focus on pancreatic cancer, as it remains one of the most difficult to treat cancers due to the lack of effective therapeutic strategies. This technology will allow us to rapidly identify new targets that drive its formation, progression and maintenance, which will translate into clinical advances."


Contact: Hilary Graham
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

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