The SPeCIALIZeD Program of

Research excellence (SPORe) in pancreatic

cancer is designed to draw on UAB’s advanc-

es in genomic medicine and the promise of

new anti-cancer agents pioneered by UAB

researchers. The Cancer Center received a

SPORe planning grant in pancreatic cancer

in 2003; the new award is a full SPORe

grant, recognizing the Cancer Center’s lead-

ership and accomplishments in the field of

pancreatic cancer research and treatment.

Pancreatic cancer remains the fourth

leading cause of cancer death overall in the

United States, with more than 43,000 new

cases of pancreatic cancer each year. The

American Cancer Society projected 590

pancreatic cancer deaths in Alabama in

2010. Obesity—proven to be an epidemic in

Alabama and across the country—has been

linked to lower survival rates for pancreatic


“Given the current bleak outlook for

patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,

this SPORe grant gives us an opportunity to

make real progress in diagnosis and treatment

of the disease,” says Cancer Center Director

edward Partridge, M.D. “The partners in

this project have the translational research

experience and know-how to move discover-

ies from the laboratory into the clinical set-

ting with remarkable success.”

The grant will focus on leading-edge bio-

markers: biological warning signs that cancer,

such as a pancreatic tumor, is present or likely

to develop. It also will test new therapeutic

agents that have shown promise in prevent-

ing, slowing or effectively treating the dis-

ease. Many of the projects draw upon new

discoveries in genomic medicine and com-

bination therapies, says Donald Buchsbaum,

Ph.D., a Cancer Center senior scientist and

pancreatic SPORe principal investigator.

Buchsbaum’s fellow co-principal investigator

is Selwyn Vickers, M.D., associate director of

the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer


The partnership grant will fund four pri-

mary projects:

• Biomarkers for earlier diagnosis. Testing

continues on a combination of imaging tech-

niques and blood sampling that can help

develop new screening tests for pancreatic

cancer. Levels of currently known tumor

biomarkers may be higher in people with

pancreatic cancer, but by the time those

higher levels are detected, the cancer may

be advanced and difficult to treat. The new

techniques will help identify biomarkers that

can be used in screening for pancreatic can-

cer as well as pre-cancerous changes in the

pancreas. Project leaders are Cancer Center

members Christopher Klug, Ph.D., and

William Grizzle, M.D., Ph.D.

• Targeted therapy with tigatuzumab.

Clinical trials continue on a class of anti-

cancer molecules called monoclonal anti-

bodies, which enlist help from the body’s

immune system to fight tumors. One promis-

ing antibody is the UAB-discovered tigatu-

zumab, which is used in combination with

research update

Pancreatic cancer SPOre The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, in collaboration with the University of

Minnesota, has won an $11.3-million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)

to explore groundbreaking pancreatic cancer research, prevention and treatment.


Pancreatic cancer remainS the FOurth

leaDing cauSe OF cancer Death Overall in the

uniteD StateS.

B y J o s h T i l l

Pancreatic SPore

principal investigator

Donald buchsbaum with

scientists James mobley

and Christopher Klug

16 u A b C o m P r e H e N S I V e C A N C e r C e N T e r u A b C o m P r e H e N S I V e C A N C e r C e N T e r 17