OMAHA -- The University of Nebraska Medical Center has launched a major clinical research study with the ultimate goal of finding a way to detect pancreatic cancer in its earliest, most curable stage.

The study, which is being funded by a grant from the National Cancer Institute as part of the Pancreatic Cancer Detection Consortium, is being led by Kelsey Klute, M.D., assistant professor, UNMC Department of Internal Medicine/Division of Oncology and Hematology.

Co-investigators on the study are: Michael (Tony) Hollingsworth, Ph.D., professor, Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer; two endocrinologists – Vijay Shivaswamy, M.B.B.S., associate professor, and Brian Boerner, M.D., assistant professor; and a gastroenterologist – Shailender Singh M.B.B.S., associate professor.

In 2018, a Center of Excellence in Pancreatic Cancer was established at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine to combat pancreatic cancer, one of the nation’s – and Nebraska’s – most lethal cancers, with a five-year survival rate of 8%. The center of excellence is housed in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center and is the only such facility in the adjacent five-state region.

“What makes pancreatic cancer so deadly is that it is typically not detected until it is already advanced,” Dr. Klute said, “That’s why we are conducting this study – to try to figure out if we can identify it earlier and potentially save lives or help people to live longer with the disease.”

The incidence of pancreatic cancer is increasing, with about 260 cases diagnosed in Nebraska per year. By 2030, it is expected to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related mortality.

Study subjects must be age 19 or older and have a history of one of the following:

• Pre-diabetes;

• New onset diabetes (diagnosed within the past three years);

• Chronic pancreatitis;

• Cysts in the pancreas;

• Two or more blood relatives with pancreas cancer; and

• Other risk factors.

Participants will be seen at Nebraska Medicine every six months over the course of five years or longer. At each visit, they will be given a questionnaire and have their blood drawn. In addition, those with diabetes will complete a mixed-meal screening test that involves drinking a nutrition shake.

“A longitudinal study like this doesn’t exist anywhere else for pancreatic cancer,” said Dr. Klute, who is hoping to enroll up to 1,250 people.

Dr. Hollingsworth said people with new onset diabetes are a key group from which they hope to draw many participants.

“Diabetes is an early marker of pancreatic cancer,” he said. “Adults with new onset diabetes which is rapidly worsening and who are losing weight seem to be at high risk for pancreatic cancer.”

“We expect very few participants on this study will ultimately develop pancreas cancer,” Dr. Klute said. “However, the information gained from the rare patients that do and their blood samples prior to their diagnosis will be extremely valuable for the development and future testing of biomarkers of early pancreas cancer.”

For more information on the study, contact Christina Hoy, D.N.P., a nurse practitioner in the Eppley Institute who is the study coordinator, at 402-559-1577, christina.hoy@unmc.edu.

Additional information is available at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03568630.

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