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Pacific professor nets grant to study pancreatic cancer

Ashim MaholtraTo help pay for research that could change how pancreatic cancer is treated, Pacific University School of Pharmacy assistant professor Ashim Maholtra received a $108,000 grant from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation.

A pharmacist and molecular pharmacologist, Maholtra trained in cardiology and pancreatic cancer at the New York University School of Medicine before taking the assistant professor role in the pharmaceutical sciences department at Pacific.

Maholtra and his team will investigate the regulation of proteins that, when abundantly present in pancreatic cancer cells, prevent the cells from being killed by drugs.

With the highest mortality rate of all cancers, pancreatic cancer has a five-year survival rate of only five percent. Maholtra believes this has much to do with the cancer’s resistance to chemotherapy.

“With limited therapeutic options, advancing our understanding of chemoresistance may lead to significant breakthroughs in the treatment of a disease that kills more than 40,000 Americans annually,” Maholtra said.

Due to a number of factors including its chemical complexity, pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat. Maholtra hopes to identify pancreatic cancer-specific cellular protein targets, which could lead to the development of drugs that could potentially suppress the proteins and make chemotherapy a more viable option.

Specifically, Maholtra and his team propose to investigate whether some drugs that are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in other unrelated diseases can be used in pancreatic cancer treatment.

“Repurposing drugs is a unique and novel mechanism for reducing the time and enormous costs associated with developing new drugs,” Maholtra said.

Since 1944, the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation has granted more than $125 million in support of research programs directed toward discovering new approaches for cancer treatments and cures, and has provided financial support for the patients receiving those treatments.