Western Connecticut Health Network Receives Grant from Ron Foley Foundation; Jumpstarts Innovative Research on Biomarkers for Pancreatic Cancer

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Research could lead to the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer by determining which patients will benefit most from chemotherapy, and help to determine how well patient respond to treatment.

"Thanks to the Ron Foley Foundation, we will study changes over time in ncRNA in blood samples donated by pancreatic cancer patient at Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals." Cristiano Ferlini, M.D.

Aided by seed funding from the Ron Foley Foundation, researchers at Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) today announced an innovative study designed to yield insights into how to detect and treat pancreatic cancer (PC).

WCHN researchers will focus on the potential development of biomarkers for pancreatic cancer from small, non-coding RNA molecules (ncRNA), genetic material that is present in the blood of patients with PC. It will be the first study to examine ncRNA in exosomes – small vessels – as a source of biomarkers for PC. The research could lead to the early diagnosis of this form of cancer, determine which patients will benefit most from chemotherapy, and help to determine how well patients respond to treatment.

The study is being conducted by a team led by Dr. Richard Frank, director of Clinical Cancer Research at Norwalk Hospital’s Whittingham Cancer Center and WCHN, and Dr. Cristiano Ferlini, director of Medical Research at the WCHN Biomedical Research Institute and Rudy and Sally Ruggles Chief of Cancer Research.

“We have developed a unique platform for analyzing non-coding RNA molecules in our laboratory,” said Dr. Ferlini. “Thanks to the Ron Foley Foundation, we will study changes over time in ncRNA in blood samples donated by pancreatic cancer patients at Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal malignancies and we are eager to explore a novel approach to detecting it.”

“This study exemplifies what is unique about the bench-to-bedside research conducted at WCHN, because it is based on unusually close collaboration between clinicians and basic scientists,” said Dr. Frank. “The idea for this research originated after discussions between Dr. Ferlini – one of the world’s leading experts on non-coding RNA – and me, an oncologist who knows first-hand how difficult it is to treat pancreatic cancer. Our ultimate goal is to develop new tools to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages and improve the treatment and management of this disease.”

Eighty percent of patients with pancreatic cancer in the U.S. die within a year after their diagnosis. At present, there are no blood tests or radiological scans that can detect this cancer at its early stages, and it is extremely difficult to determine how well patients respond to treatment.

The seed funding provided by the Ron Foley Foundation was a grant of $49,000. Barbara Foley, president of the Foundation, said “When we visited Dr. Ferlini’s laboratory and spoke to him and Dr. Frank, we were impressed by the world-class facilities and by their passionate commitment to helping people with pancreatic cancer. We know funding for basic research is very hard to get, and hope that our gift will enhance WCHN’s ability to get more financial support for this exciting project.”

About the Ron Foley Foundation
The mission of the Ron Foley Foundation, based in West Hartford, CT, is to raise funds for medical research leading to improved diagnosis, more effective treatment and a cure for pancreatic cancer; to promote public awareness of pancreatic cancer through education; and to provide direct financial aid to pancreatic cancer patients in need. For more information, visit: http://www.ronsrun.org.

About Western Connecticut Health Network
Western Connecticut Health Network (WCHN) is the region's premier, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. WCHN is anchored by three nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital, New Milford Hospital and Norwalk Hospital, as well as affiliated organizations. In addition to the three hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes numerous medical practices and sub-specialties across the region through the Western Connecticut Medical Group, the Western Connecticut Home Care, the nationally renowned WCHN Research Institute, the WCHN Foundation, the Norwalk Hospital Foundation and other affiliates. Share your comments with us at Facebook.com/DanburyHospital; Facebook.com/NewMilfordHospital and/or Facebook.com/NorwalkHospital.

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Andrea Rynn
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