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Hirshberg Foundation enlists USC in its fight against pancreatic cancer

by Amy Hamaker
Parkash Gill received a grant from the Hirshberg Foundation to help study the receptor protein EphB4’s role in pancreatic cancer. (USC Photo/Jon Nalick)
Parkash Gill received a grant from the Hirshberg Foundation to help study the receptor protein EphB4’s role in pancreatic cancer. (USC Photo/Jon Nalick)

According to American Cancer Society estimates, more than 45,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2013, and nearly 38,500 will die. The incidence of this cancer has been slowly increasing over the past decade.

In its quest to discover the biologic mechanisms of pancreatic cancer — among the most lethal of all cancers, but the least funded for research — the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, now in its 15th year, recently provided $25,000 to the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. It is the foundation’s first gift to USC.

The gift will support the research of Parkash Gill, professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and Pathology at the Keck School. Gill’s research focuses on EphB4, a receptor protein on the surface of tumor cells that interacts with another protein, Ephrin-B2, to enable blood vessel growth in cancer. If the interaction could be blocked, cancer wouldn’t grow.

Gill and his team developed a medicine that blocks the interaction of the proteins required to produce blood vessels. EphB4 is also highly induced in pancreatic cancer cells, where it promotes tumor cell survival and spread. The medicine is being tested in genetic models of human pancreatic cancer and, based on the results, further testing in humans is expected to occur soon.

The gift from the Hirshberg Foundation, which funds projects and programs designed to improve patient care, treatment and, ultimately, survival rates, will enable further study of how the medicine affects outcomes when administered with current pancreatic treatment regimens.

In conjunction with awarding the $25,000 gift, the Hirshberg Foundation has invited Gill to participate at the 10th annual Agi Hirshberg Symposium on Pancreatic Cancer at the upcoming meeting of the American Pancreatic Association in November.

Gill is grateful for the funding, and he remains focused on his work.

“It’s an honor to be invited,” he said. “Together there is the potential of incorporating the findings and discoveries from other scientists with my work to advance the research and accelerate progress in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

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