By Sara Bondell - July 20, 2020
Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis died July 17 from pancreatic cancer. The Georgia lawmaker had been battling stage IV disease since December.
Lewis helped organize the 1963 March on Washington alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., which lead to the passage of voting rights for blacks two years later. He was elected to Congress in 1986 and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018.
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest five-year survival rate of any leading cancer at only 10%, and the incidence and death rates related to pancreatic cancer are higher in the African American population compared to other racial and ethnic groups. The reasons for these disparities are unexplained and underexplored.
In 2018, Moffitt Cancer Center began a partnership known as the Florida Pancreas Collaborative with UF Health Cancer Center, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and twelve additional Florida hospitals to address cancer disparities and improve outcomes and care for the racially and ethnically diverse group of Floridians affected by pancreatic cancer. The team was awarded a $1.36 million grant from the State of Florida’s James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program to build the first statewide biobank for pancreatic cancer disparities research.
“Collaborative, multi-institutional cancer disparities research of this kind has been lacking. Together, we have an important opportunity to make a difference in the lives of thousands of patients with pancreatic cancer in our state and beyond,” said principal investigator Dr. Jennifer B. Permuth, a molecular epidemiologist and assistant member in the Departments of Cancer Epidemiology and Gastrointestinal Oncology at Moffitt. “Our long-term goal is to minimize disparities, improve quality of life, increase survival and provide hope for individuals and families affected by pancreatic cancer.”
Permuth and radiologist Dr. Jung Choi were also awarded a $50,000 grant from the George Edgecomb Society to study pancreatic cancers in both African American and non-African American patients by looking at and comparing the patients’ scans, tumor samples and treatment outcomes. Their team is looking for features in CT scans that are invisible to the human eye—tumor size, shape or texture—that might give insight into how aggressive a tumor is. They are hoping to be able to combine that information with molecular information from tumor samples to find a less invasive way to biopsy tumors and identify novel treatment options.
“Progress takes time, but we feel these lines of research will lead to great inroads into understanding the disease process and potentially new treatment options in different racial groups, especially African Americans who have the highest burden of pancreatic cancer,” said Permuth.