In this application, we propose to address PQD3: "What underlying causal events - e.g., genetic, epigenetic, biologic, behavioral, or environmental - allow certain individuals to survive beyond the expected limits of otherwise highly lethal cancers?" Pancreas cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death with minimal improvements in survival in recent years. Our experience as the leading center in treatment of pancreas cancer delineated the pathobiology of this disease and surgical innovations allowed curative resections with long term survival in the past two decades. Concomitantly our center has defined the role of epigenetics and genetic alterations in cancer and translated this knowledge for ongoing therapeutic trials. We now bring within this proposal a collaboration of leaders in pancreas cancer genetics and epigenetics along with clinicians and pathologists to understand the signature of long-term survivors from this generally lethal malignancy. Various studies, recently, have unraveled the relation between tumor aggressiveness and gene expression signatures, especially related to stem cell patterns, and emerging evidence indicates that this has an important epigenetic component. Very little is known about such conceptual underpinnings in pancreas cancer. Our hypothesis is that long- term survivors from pancreas cancer have a unique gene expression and epigenetic signature that can be leveraged to develop novel therapies that can cure pancreas cancer. We have identified a cohort of 300 patients with pancreas adenocarcinomas within our dataset who are Very Long-Term Survivors, termed VLTS.
In Aim 1, we will use a combination of next generation sequencing (NGS) to agnostically identify gene expression and epigenetic differences in the whole genome, as well as use array-based technologies to extensively characterize DNA methylation and chromatin modifications in these VLTS patients compared to pancreas cancer patients who are Rapid Progressors (RP). In the second Aim, we will perform bioinformatics analyses to correlate the epigenetic changes to expression changes and dissect the major pathways that drive the different clinical fates of VLTS and RP patients. Information from ongoing exome sequencing on this cohort by our collaborators will be integrated. Finally in the third Aim, this information will be translated to develop a prognostic signature that can be validated in our large well-annotated dataset of 3000 patients. In this proposal, we have access to the right cohort of patients along with the experienced teams to understand and dissect the genetic and epigenetic programs driving lethality or indolence in these cancers and translate such knowledge to change the survival curve in pancreas cancer.
Pancreas cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States with minimal improvements in survival from this disease in the past 40 years. In this proposal, we bring together a collaboration of foremost clinicians and scientists who treat pancreas cancer to understand why certain patients with this disease can have long survival. Such understanding will allow us to develop better treatments to cure pancreas cancer.