Today, we are participating in Chapman University’s Literary Pub(lishing) Crawl. If you’re in the area, we encourage you to join us for panels with writers, editors, and agents and a book signing featuring former head of Disneyland Jack Lindquist and journalist David Henley.
On Saturday, we’ll be walking for the second time in PurpleStride Chicago. Last spring, Anna’s Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and the annual PurpleStride walk was scheduled on Mary Lee’s birthday so we walked while she was in the hospital. Mary Lee died in December, so we’re walking in her honor on her birthday weekend this year.
Our team is Mary Lee’s Merry Ladies, though, of course, we welcome men on the team as well. We have 14 people signed up to walk, an even bigger team than last year. We welcome donations toward the team or any individual team member. The money goes to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or PanCan, to support patient advocacy and research.
When we wrote about last year’s PurpleStride, we gave an overview of pancreatic cancer, and mentioned several people who’ve died from this disease: Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, and Randy Pausch of The Last Lecture. Since then, Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died from pancreatic cancer last July, having survived 17 months after diagnosis.
The statistics are terrible, with most of those diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic cancer—three out of every four, or four out of every five, depending on the source—dying before one year is up. The five-year survival rate is just 6%, perhaps as low as 4%. Even if it’s caught in its earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is only 14%. Though not as common as many other cancers and more common after the age of 55 and in men, pancreatic cancer is on the increase. (See more at SEER.) Currently the fourth leading cause of cancer death, it’s expected to eclipse all other cancers except lung cancer by 2030. But pancreatic cancer receives less funding from the National Cancer Institute than the other four leading causes of cancer death. (See more at PanCan.)
The most surprising research revealed in the last year was done by a high-school student in Maryland. According to PanCan, Jack Andraka’s “project involves a dipstick technology, whereby a small piece of paper is coated with antibodies that recognize proteins that circulate in the blood or urine of patients with pancreatic cancer, but not individuals without the disease. This technology is much quicker and less expensive than standard laboratory tests.” This preliminary research is especially promising because 80% of patients are diagnosed after the cancer has metastasized. If a simple test could detect the disease earlier, when a small tumor could be surgically removed, survival rates could creep up. Andraka is racking up the awards for his idea and working with companies to test it and make it available to the public.
Meanwhile, scientist Alec Kimmelman is investigating how pancreatic cancer cells work, as it’s important to know exactly how they function differently from normal cells in order to destroy them without harming healthy cells. By looking at cell metabolism, Kimmelman discovered, for instance, that pancreatic cancer cells process sugar differently. More recently, in an article in Nature, Kimmelman and his team revealed, “that pancreatic cancer cells break down glutamine in a manner that is unique from normal cells. Furthermore, the study shows that pancreatic cancer cells are quite dependent on glutamine as a source of energy.” Now, research is needed to figure out how to inhibit—in the body, not just in the lab—the ability of the cancer cells to break down glutamine, so that the cancer cells die or are left more vulnerable to existing treatments.
The weather in Chicago for last year’s PurpleStride was drizzly and cold, and it looks as if it will be much the same this year. Mostly, we hope it dries up after this past week of terrible flooding in Illinois. It’d be great if it were a bit warmer on Saturday, too.