Two Sylvester Pancreatic Cancer Researchers Awarded Grants from the Florida Department of Health

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Cigarette smoking is one of the major risk factors for pancreatic cancer and a focus of study for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers Vikas Dudeja, M.D., and Sulagna Banerjee, Ph.D. Their individual research projects, recently awarded state funding, examine different tobacco-related mechanisms that promote or drive this aggressive cancer.

Vikas Dudeja, M.D., left, with researcher Harrys Jacob, Ph.D.

The Florida Department of Health’s James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program awards peer-reviewed, competitive grants for cancer research based on scientific merit. Among the goals for this program established by the Florida Legislature is to expand the foundation of biomedical knowledge relating to the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure of diseases related to tobacco use, including cancer. Out of 85 applicants for the grants this year, 10 were selected.

“Mechanism of Smoking Induced Promotion of Pancreatic Cancer” is the grant title for the research submitted by Dr. Dudeja, an associate professor of surgery and a Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center member. He has been awarded $805,393.

“Our research previously has demonstrated that gut microbiome promotes pancreatic and many other cancers,” Dr. Dudeja said. “Our recent studies have suggested that changes in gut microbiome mediate many of the effects of smoking. With this grant funding we will be building on these findings and will define cigarette smoking induced changes in gut microbiome, how they promote cancer and how can we counteract them to make lives better for our patients.”

Dr. Banerjee, an associate professor of surgery and a Sylvester member, has been awarded $805,409. Her research will study the underlying molecular mechanism of the inter-conversion that pancreatic cancer cells undergo which makes them more aggressive and resistant to treatment.

“Carcinogens in tobacco smoke alter the cellular signaling pathways in the pancreatic cancer microenvironment, inadvertently selecting for a population of cells that are resistant to therapy,” said Dr. Banerjee. “My project is geared toward understanding the mechanism of this selection and, more importantly, evaluating if these altered pathways can be targeted to prevent this enrichment of treatment resistant population and increase survival of pancreatic cancer patients.”

Sulagna Banerjee, Ph.D., left, with research assistant Nikita Sharma.

Drs. Dudeja and Banerjee are the principal investigators for their projects. Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Surgery, and associate director for research innovation.

“Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease with a very poor prognosis. It is on track to be the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths,” Dr. Saluja said. “One of the reasons for the dismal outcome of pancreatic cancer is lack of understanding of molecular mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of pancreatic cancer. Research funded by the state of Florida to Drs. Dudeja and Banerjee will help us understand these mechanisms which can lead to improved treatment of this terrible disease.”