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Henry Ford gets $20M to target earlier cancer detection

April 10, 2018 GMT

Henry Ford Health System said Monday it received a $20 million donation that is targeted at creating new ways to detect the pancreatic cancer in its early stages and improve chances at surviving the deadly disease.

The money from an anonymous donor will be used to create the Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center, meant to become a hub for national and international collaboration on pancreatic cancer research, according to the Detroit-based system.

“We are grateful for this transformational gift that will allow Henry Ford to bring the best minds in the world together to shine an important light on pancreatic cancer,” Henry Ford Health System President and CEO Wright Lassiter III said in a Monday statement. “It marks a crucial step in advancing pancreatic cancer research with the goal of increasing survivorship for patients diagnosed with this terrible disease.”

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An estimated 53,670 people around the country are diagnosed each year with pancreatic cancer. There is currently no effective screening tool that diagnoses pancreatic cancer in its early stages. Most people do not experience any symptoms of the cancer until it has progressed to an advanced stage.

Henry Ford’s center will focus on forming partnerships with institutions around the country and world that focus on finding ways to more quickly diagnose pancreatic cancer. Early detection is critical because the five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 8 percent.

“While we’ve made incredible advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, where some types of cancer are now curable, pancreatic cancer remains nearly a universally fatal diagnosis,” said Dr. Steven Kalkanis, medical director at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery.

“One of the challenges is pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late, generally at an advanced stage, making it difficult to treat. If we are going to move the needle, we need a global crowd-sourced effort to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier and give patients a fighting chance for survival.”

The Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center will be overseen by Dr. David Kwon, director of surgical oncology with the Henry Ford Cancer Institute and director at Henry Ford Hospital’s Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic.

Kwon said he hopes the new center’s global collaborations could potentially change the landscape of pancreatic cancer treatment.

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Research will focus on expanding the number of identified biomarkers in pancreatic cancer that can be validated in patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to Henry Ford Health. The biomarkers would then be translated into screening tests for earlier detection of pancreatic cancer.

Researchers also will explore using artificial intelligence to analyze clinical medical records and radiological studies to identify previously unidentified patterns in patients’ medical records that might alert health providers to the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

The center also plans to develop investigator-initiated clinical trials to advance pancreatic cancer treatment.

“Never has there been a greater momentum in the fight against pancreatic cancer, and unfortunately, the incidence of pancreatic cancer will only continue to rise,” Kwon said in a statement. “To effectively fight pancreatic cancer, we need to work to find solutions to problems that have eluded clinicians and researchers to date, while embracing a culture of innovation and collaboration.”

KBouffard@detroitnews.com

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