by Zoe Musselman
Students recently learned why pancreatic cancer is so difficult to treat despite being one of the most researched diseases thanks to Jonathan Brody, Ph.D., the director of surgical research and co-director of the Jefferson Pancreatic, Biliary, and Related Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
Brody spoke at Chestnut Hill College on April 10 for the 26th Annual Biomedical Distinguished Lecture Series. In his lecture, “Why Is Pancreatic Cancer the Most Difficult Cancer to Treat, Yet We Know So Much About It?,” he discussed the intricacies of pancreatic cancer and the work he and others are doing to treat the disease.
Brody opened the lecture by reminiscing on his days as a student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where he completed his thesis on the molecular aspects of cancer and cancer genetics and earned his Ph.D. Then, he gave students insight into his current work as a professor of surgery and pathology at Philadelphia University and Thomas Jefferson University.
“To me, it is the greatest life I know because there’s two things that are involved with it in relation to your college years: it’s about education and discovery,” Brody said. “I get to do education every day, and I get to discover things that no one else does in the world. To me, that’s an amazing life, and I’m grateful every day.”
Brody, along with Scott Kern, M.D., patented novel buffers for DNA identification that have changed the format of the molecular biology technique used to detect DNA. His laboratory focuses on many of the molecular aspects of pancreatic cancer, such as developing ways to target a novel pro-survival network in pancreatic cancer cells and optimizing current therapies used in the clinic. He is a member of the Kimmel Cancer Center and the recipient of the 2010 American Association of Cancer Research’s Pancreatic Cancer Career Development Award.
The College’s Center for Natural and Behavioral Sciences presents the Biomedical Distinguished Lecture Series twice a year. Created in 1994, the series features internationally acclaimed professionals who have made groundbreaking contributions in the biomedical field. It provides a forum for recent advances in biomedical research and exposes students to prominent scientific and medical professionals.
Lakshmi Atchison, Ph.D., a biology professor and the director of the Biomedical Distinguished Lecture Series, pointed out what a golden opportunity it was for students to hear about the cutting-edge research Brody is performing in the field.
“You are extraordinary, you come amidst your busy schedule, and we are very grateful,” Atchison said.
Brody explored the complexities of pancreatic cancer — now the third-leading cause of cancer-related death. He discussed research that had been done by others in the field and explained that it was from this initial research that he and his colleagues were inspired to learn more about individualized treatments and the importance behind analyzing each patient’s cancer independently.
This focus on individualized treatment inspired Brody and a colleague to establish “Know Your Tumor,” a program that gathered patients from around the country with various lifestyles and insurance policies to participate in a study to have their genes sequenced.
“What we found was that out of those 1,200 patients, 27 percent of these patients actually had mutations that were actionable,” Brody said. “What that means is that there were drugs out there, FDA-approved, that could actually target these mutations.”
Brody noted a few takeaway points, including the importance of looking beyond the genomics, engaging in present-focus therapy, and thinking about how mutations become addicted to post-transcriptional rapid gene regulation.
Brody said these mechanisms will enable professionals to find new targets. He is hoping this will happen shortly as he and his colleagues prepare for phase one trials at Jefferson.
Brody closed the lecture by addressing students interested in science and medicine.
“Smart, young people like yourselves in the audience who want to take on this battle with tremendous dedication and grit are going to make a difference,” he said.
The lecture concluded with several questions from engaged audience members.