EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – A $1 million dollar grant from the National Cancer Institute (a division of NIH) will allow UTEP to investigate pancreatic cancer risk factors; however, it will also be used to support graduate students with tuition and paid research.

“Pancreatic cancer is a highly lethal disease,” said Weiqin Lu, Ph.D., a professor in the UTEP School of Pharmacy and the project’s principal investigator. “Chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy are not effective treatments for this strain of the disease.  Surgical resection, or removal, is still the most effective treatment, but less than 20% of patients are eligible for surgical treatment.”

The NCI grant will allow Lu to study the role of obesity and inflammation in the growth of oncogenic KRAS (Kirsten Rat Sarcoma Virus)-mediated pancreatic cancer. This strain is found in approximately 90 percent of pancreatic cancer patients. KRAS is known to be a key factor in pancreatic cancer growth.

But this is not the only area Lu and her team will study. A compound found in the cells of several animals and insects seems to be promising therapy in the fight against the disease. “This discovery would result in a paradigm change in the understanding of pancreatic cancer if we can prove it in our study,” Lu said. “This research may assist with developing clinical opportunities and strategies that will significantly advance our collective knowledge in this area.”

“The work Dr. Lu and her colleagues are doing has the potential to be transformative in our search for a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that underlie pancreatic cancer,” said José Rivera, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP School of Pharmacy. “I congratulate them on receiving this extremely competitive award from the NIH.”

The grant will also be used to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at UTEP.