Hollings celebrates Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, official launch of PanCAN SC

November 17, 2021
Hollings team members gather for a photo before the PanCAN balloon walk
Hollings kicked off Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month with a balloon walk marking the start of an exciting week for PanCAN SC. Photos by Josh Birch

Donned in purple and carrying bouquets of purple balloons through the hallways of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, a group of volunteers stops at labs and clinics for a simple, but meaningful, purpose – to thank physicians, researchers and staff for their work fighting against pancreatic cancer as part of National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

The balloon delivery marked the beginning of an exciting week for the newly formed Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) South Carolina, led by Jane Talbot, a longtime supporter of Hollings’ cancer research efforts. The week also includes a Hollings reception funded by the Talbot family on Thursday to raise awareness, and funds, for pancreatic cancer research.

Jane Talbot with Dr. Denis Guttridge 
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center supporter Jane Talbot with Dr. Denis Guttridge.

The Talbot pancreatic cancer awareness reception, which the public is welcome to attend either in person or virtually, will highlight advances in pancreatic cancer research and treatment being done at Hollings.

The event program will feature keynote speaker Michael (Tony) Hollingsworth, Ph.D., associate director for basic research at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He will be addressing immunotherapy treatments for pancreatic cancer and overcoming system immunosuppression.

It also will include speakers David Mahvi, M.D., a Hollings surgical oncologist; Denis Guttridge, Ph.D., Hollings’ associate director of Translational Sciences and a pancreatic cancer researcher; Katy Morgan, M.D., Hollings’ chief of the Division of Gastrointestinal and Laparoscopic Surgery; and Craig Lockhart, M.D., Hollings’ associate director of clinical science.

At the event, pancreatic cancer survivor Bob Hessler will be reflecting on his cancer journey and the care he received while at Hollings. Hessler underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy treatment in Massachusetts before transferring his care to Hollings where he underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy in June 2021. “MUSC Hollings Cancer Center saved my life. I think it is an extraordinary facility. I get to do what I love to do with the people I love the most, and for that, I’m very thankful.”

Talbot said the reception is a way to shine a light on the research and work being done to combat pancreatic cancer in South Carolina. She said she is hopeful that PanCAN can help to support future pancreatic cancer research at Hollings.

“Being part of PanCAN brings expertise and support for our ultimate goals – research into early detection and new treatments to decrease the mortality rate of pancreatic cancer and to improve the lives of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer as well as their families,” Talbot said.

"Studying cachexia in PDAC is useful because it allows us to look at the biological cause early on. In other cancers, cachexia appears when the cancer is very advanced.”
— Dr. Denis Guttridge

The mission is personal for Talbot, whose husband, Frank, died from pancreatic cancer after a two-and-a-half-year battle. During that time, Frank would often say, “Where there is research, there is hope.” Jane Talbot views the launch of PanCAN South Carolina as a way to offer hope to current and future patients. “Our goal from day one was to honor Frank’s wish to champion research into pancreatic cancer and save lives.”

She credits a clinical trial at Hollings for adding two years to her husband’s life after his diagnosis. Since his passing, his wife has been instrumental in creating a Hollings research endowment in Frank’s name and raising awareness about pancreatic cancer.

Guttridge thanked Talbot for her hard work and said that the endowment fund already has been instrumental in funding groundbreaking pancreatic cancer research.

“Although progress has been made in the last 10 years in increasing treatment options and lowering pancreatic cancer deaths, much work remains as we face the reality that pancreatic cancer is predicted to become the second deadliest form of cancer by 2030,” Guttridge said. “That means researchers have to work that much harder and faster in discovering new breakthroughs and translating those breakthroughs to clinical trials.”

As associate director of translational sciences, Guttridge is focused on streamlining the research process between scientists in the lab and physicians treating patients. An advocate for clinical trials, Guttridge knows just how important it is for researchers and physicians to work together.

“Having the newly formed PanCAN South Carolina is key to the growth of our own pancreatic cancer transdisciplinary cancer team at Hollings Cancer Center because it provides us a mechanism to engage the community so they are aware of the research and clinical care we provide at MUSC,” Guttridge said. “Through this engagement and partnership, it provides better access for all South Carolinians to have the best resources available to them for managing pancreatic cancer.” 

“MUSC Hollings Cancer Center saved my life. I think it is an extraordinary facility. I get to do what I love to do with the people I love the most, and for that, I’m very thankful.”
— Bob Hessler

Recently, Guttridge and fellow Hollings researcher Michael Ostrowski, Ph.D., were awarded a $9.7 million grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the biology of cachexia, a condition that affects roughly 55% of all cancer patients and is more common in pancreatic cancer. Cachexia is a consequence of cancer characterized by involuntary and excessive weight loss caused by the depletion of skeletal muscle and adipose tissue.

“Cachexia is very prominent in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Approximately 70% of PDAC patients have cachexia. Studying cachexia in PDAC is useful because it allows us to look at the biological cause early on. In other cancers, cachexia appears when the cancer is very advanced,” said Guttridge.

By better understanding the biology of cachexia, Guttridge said better therapeutic targets can be used to treat it. Talbot hopes that the local PanCAN affiliate can help to further research like this and aid researchers as they investigate new and more effective treatments of pancreatic cancer.

Those interested in attending the reception should RSVP to hccevents@musc.edu or call 843-792-4143.