The deadly nature of most pancreatic tumors is well known, with less than 10% of patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma estimated to survive 5 years after diagnosis. Recent molecular analyses of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma have shown that a patient’s prognosis changes depending on the tumor’s molecular characteristics. One subtype of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, dubbed quasimesenchymal pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, has perhaps the worst prognosis of all. A new research grant will enable pancreatic cancer researcher Sita Kugel, PhD, of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, to tackle this challenge.
Sita Kugel, PhD
Dr. Kugel’s new funding from the National Cancer Institute will enable her to better understand the disease and help address the lack of effective treatments for patients with this aggressive type of pancreatic cancer. Called MERIT, for Method to Extend Research in Time, the award is a new type of funding mechanism aimed at early-career faculty such as Dr. Kugel, who established her laboratory at Fred Hutch in 2017. She will receive $400,000 per year for an initial 5-year period, after which she will have the opportunity to extend her project for 2 more years.
Dr. Kugel’s work will focus on a protein called SIRT6. Her previous work has shown that SIRT6 levels are greatly reduced in patients with quasimesenchymal pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Thus, SIRT6 may contribute to the development of this type of pancreatic cancer as well as to its aggressive nature.
Dr. Kugel aims to untangle how SIRT6 is lost and how that contributes to development of this aggressive subtype of pancreatic cancer. Armed with these insights, she plans to work toward new therapeutics tailored to quasimesenchymal pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. ■