Combating Pancreatic Cancer with Wisconsin Dream Teams | By Kate Rodgers

Did you know? In Wisconsin, pancreatic cancer kills more people than breast cancer. Why? Currently there is no effective form of pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment, moderator Sofia Refetoff, Pancreas Cancer Research Coordinator, University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center (UWCC), informed attendees.

However, Wisconsin is leading the way in innovative pancreatic cancer research and discoveries. It is also home to numerous academic and industry collaborations that are transforming this fundamental research into medical technologies that are saving lives.

‘Dream team’ panelists Melissa Skala, Principal Investigator, Morgridge Medical Engineering, and Dustin Deming, Gastrointestinal Oncologist at the UWCC, shared their story of how their ideas and collaboration turned into a novel way to provide pancreatic cancer patients with personalized treatment strategies.

A collaboration was kindled to apply Skala’s technology to Deming’s specialty of gastrointestinal oncology, beginning this dream team’s story of success.  “It is critical to work with people in the hospital to take researchers to a different mindset and make things applicable,” Skala reiterated.

Skala’s technology provides novel 3D cell imaging capabilities, allowing researchers and physicians to see how a patient’s cell’s respond to a treatment. Prior to this technology, this process was lengthy and less precise, and often resulted in a ‘guessing game’ when treating patients via chemotherapy.

A sample of the patient’s tumor cell is taken and then grown using a novel cell culture technique developed at UW-Madison, with quicker turnaround and higher cell survivability. The patient’s tumor culture is then tested amongst several specific drugs to see how effective each is. Based on these results, patients can receive targeted treatments more likely to be effective for their specific type of tumor.

These types of new approaches are needed and are likely to lead to improved treatments for cancer patients. “We hope to have the ability to look a patient in the eye and say ‘we know this drug will work for you,’” said Deming.

While this talented dream team’s collaboration has made these research and treatment advancements possible, panelists reminded the audience that it’s supporting organizations and a strong science ecosystem in Wisconsin that makes these innovations possible.

“These organizations say they want you to take a risk, and I think that we have to do that in order to make progress,” said Skala.

Watch the entire panel discussion from the May 11th event here.

View additional recap blogs from the Wisconsin Medical Imaging Forum.