Making progress in pancreatic cancer

You can feel the momentum building in the pancreatic cancer scientific community and it's an exciting time in the movement to defeat pancreatic cancer. For the first time, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) hosted a Special Conference devoted to the disease, entitled Pancreatic Cancer: Progress and Challenges. The meeting took place June 18-21, 2012, in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the US. The five-year relative survival rate is a mere six percent, due to inadequate diagnostic tools and ineffective treatment options. Historically, the disease has been woefully underfunded and understudied. A major goal of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is to double the survival rate for pancreatic cancer by 2020. A critical part of this effort is to advance research in the field, by bringing in more scientists to study the disease, increasing and improving the results generated and creating more opportunities for researchers to work together. The combination of more research, more researchers and more collaboration will accelerate progress towards a better understanding of the disease, and ultimately lead to improved clinical outcomes.In the interest of convening the scientific community, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network proudly served as the lead supporter of this AACR Pancreatic Cancer Special Conference.The AACR describes their special conferences as presenting "unique opportunities to interact with the world's leading experts and discuss the latest findings in rapidly developing areas of cancer research." Indeed, this meeting featured a variety of attendees, including world renowned authorities in the field, early-career faculty members just launching their research endeavors, trainees at the graduate student and postdoctoral fellowship level, and survivors and community members hungry for progress in this devastating disease. Excitingly, over 450 people registered for this meeting. In stark contrast, a Think Tank that took place in late 1999 involved only 60 scientists. It is exciting to witness the increased interest by the scientific community in this disease. A recurring theme throughout the meeting in Lake Tahoe was comments marveling at the "quantity" and "quality" of science being presented.As testament to the caliber of research, the AACR issued 12 press releases related to results announced at the meeting. There was also a press conference where four of the scientific presentations were featured. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's summaries of the meeting highlights with links to the AACR press releases can be found here. The broad range of topics discussed at the meeting ranged from work conducted towards improving the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, potential ways to prevent the disease, understanding progression and spread, and explaining the role of the complex types of tissue and cells that typically surround pancreatic tumors. Overall, this AACR Special Conference was a critical milestone for the pancreatic cancer research community. Each session was jam-packed with both attendees and information. Because of our enhanced knowledge about the basic scientific features of pancreatic cancer, we are poised to translate these findings into clinical benefit for patients. We will continue to work closely with the research community and intensify our efforts to meet our goal of doubling the survival rate of pancreatic cancer by the year 2020. Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, is the president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. You can learn more at pancan.org.