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Cedars-Sinai Awarded $10 Million to Study Pancreatic Diseases

A scientific team led by Cedars-Sinai has been awarded $10 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to investigate the risk factors and behaviors that contribute to pancreatic diseases and develop potential treatments and lifestyle recommendations to prevent them.

The pancreas, a gland that lies behind the stomach on the left side of the belly, produces enzymes to aid digestion and the hormones insulin and glucagon, which control the body’s blood sugar level. Inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis, occurs when the pancreas-produced enzymes damage the gland. The condition usually is caused by gallstones or heavy alcohol use. Pancreatitis is the focus of the investigation.

The incidence of pancreatitis has grown over the last several years. Hospital admissions due to acute pancreatitis—the sudden swelling of the pancreas—increased 16.4% in the U.S. from 2002 to 2012, according to research published in the journal Pancreas in April 2017. Acute pancreatitis prompts about 275,000 annual U.S. hospital admissions. It can last for days and may cause permanent organ damage. The long-term, or chronic, form is linked to an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.

There currently are no approved treatments or preventative measures to combat the progressive and chronic forms of pancreatitis, which can cause significant patient suffering, said the team’s lead investigator Stephen J. Pandol MD, director of Basic and Translational Pancreas Research at Cedars-Sinai.

"We hope our study projects will reveal how recurring and chronic pancreatitis develops in patients, due to lifestyle factors such as alcohol abuse and smoking," Pandol said. "The goal is to use our enhanced understanding to develop new experimental therapeutics to prevent the development of pancreatic


The grant will fund four projects:

  • Project 1: Multidisciplinary experts in gastroenterology, pancreatic conditions and alcohol research will try to identify pancreatitis triggers that can be studied in the laboratory and used to update lifestyle recommendations for patients with pancreatitis. This project will provide human tissue samples for research in Projects 2, 3 and 4. The principal investigators are Christie Jeon, ScD, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Cedars-Sinai, and Dhiraj Yadav, MD, MPH, associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Project 2: The goal of this project is to determine the effects of alcohol and smoking on pancreas cells and substructures within those cells. The principal investigators are Pandol and Aurelia Lugea, PhD, Cedars-Sinai Cancer, and Anna Gukovskaya, Veterans Administration, Los Angeles.
  • Project 3: The researchers will study the involvement of the immune system and inflammatory responses in acute and chronic pancreatitis. They also will test potential therapies that may stop or reverse disease progression. The principal investigators for this project are Aida Habtezion, MD, MSc, Associate Professor, Medicine-Gastroenterology & Hepatology at Stanford Medicine, and Minoti Apte, MMedSci, PhD, professor of Medicine, University of New South Wales, Australia.
  • Project 4: The researchers will investigate the effects of alcohol, smoking and genetic risk factors on the cells of the pancreas. They also will study the potential effects of using simvastatin, a Food & Drug Administration-approved statin medication used to improve cholesterol levels, as a potential treatment option for those with pancreatic disorders. The principal investigators are Pandol, Honit Piplani, PhD, senior doctoral fellow, and Roberta Gottleib, MD, director of Cardiobiology and Professor of Medicine, all at Cedars-Sinai.

"We are delighted that our expert team of scientists and clinicians will be breaking new ground as they energetically tackle the challenges of this serious disease," said Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the Medical Faculty at Cedars-Sinai.

Funding: Research reported in this publication was supported by the U.S. Department of Defense under Award Number W81XWH1910888.

Read more on the Cedars-Sinai blog: Fighting Pancreatic Cancer