Gower presented a statistical analysis of survival rates in pancreatic cancer, performed under the mentorship of Andrew Hendifar, MD, associate professor of Medicine and medical director of pancreatic cancer at Cedars-Sinai Cancer. The study has been published online in the Annals of Pancreatic Cancer.
Pancreatic cancer continues to be one of the most lethal cancers. It involves uncontrolled growth and toxicity in cells that originate in the pancreas, the organ that transforms food into energy and helps keep blood sugar in balance, among other critical functions. The five-year relative survival rate for this type of cancer is about 10%, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Gower said part of the challenge in treatment is the lack of screening for early stage pancreatic cancer. As a result, most patients present with late-stage disease.
For his study, Gower and colleagues analyzed the health outcomes of 239 Cedars-Sinai patients who had biopsy-confirmed pancreatic cancer, based on records from 2007 to 2019.
The study found that patients with a specific kind of mutation called germline ATM had an average survival time of 21 months versus 11 months for patients with somatic ATM mutations. Somatic mutations are developed in the body's cells over the course of life, whereas germline mutations are generally inherited and passed down to offspring, Gower explained.
"Our findings suggest that germline ATM mutations are associated with a survival benefit," said Gower. "As pancreatic cancer has fully entered the era of precision medicine, our study shows that germline ATM mutations may help us predict outcomes and may possibly be exploited therapeutically with targeted therapies."
Gower said future research is needed to understand the significance of ATM mutations with regard to their function and their clinical significance.
After the award event, both Gower and Akhmerov reflected on working through 2020.
"Research has been tremendously tough to conduct during this historic pandemic," Gower said." Our internal medicine residents worked many additional hours caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients, which reduced the time we were able to spend on research. At the same time, the pandemic has reinforced my desire to help patients in need, both at the bedside and through my research."
Akhmerov said the challenges presented in the past year had been life altering. "My commitment to research, and specifically immunology-based research, has strengthened during the pandemic. I was inspired by the global scientific effort, which galvanized so swiftly and effectively against COVID-19. Having the opportunity to contribute to this effort has been one of my most formative moments as a resident."
The Rubenstein award is funded by the Burns and Allen Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai and the Cedars-Sinai site of the UCLA Clinical and Translational Science Institute.
The other two finalists this year were Anthony Nguyen, MD, PhD, who presented research on optimizing treatment for head and neck cancers, and Lucille Yao, MD, who presented a study on postoperative patient satisfaction for telemedicine visits versus in-person visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disclosure: John Lee, a co-author of the Annals of Pancreatic Cancer study, reports that he is on the advisory board for Invitae.