DETROIT – Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most difficult cancers to beat. It has taken the lives of L. Brooks Patterson, Aretha Franklin and some 45,000 Americans each year.
There has been real progress made against the disease. Pancreatic cancer has been in the headlines recently as it challenges "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek. As more people step forward with their diagnoses, researchers move closer to a solution.
Breast and prostate cancer are common, so research funding isn't difficult to find. However, with less common and more deadly cancers like pancreatic cancer, research progress can be difficult without awareness, as there are fewer survivors.
Sheila Sky Kasselman was diagnosed and treated for pancreatic cancer 12 years ago. Because of that she was determined to make a difference and formed the Sky Foundation to raise awareness and funding to aid research into earlier detection and treatment.
"Sky Foundation is doing very well and we're funding a lot and we're looking to fund, really, across the country," Kasselman said.
Kasselman said raising money for the battle against pancreatic cancer is assisted when notable people come forward with their diagnoses.
Dr. Asfar Azmi is a researcher at the Karmanos Cancer Institute whose research is funded by the Sky Foundation.
"Our focus is on drug discovery and what we do is identify novel avenues, which drive pancreatic cancer and whether we can block it by a drug," Azmi said.
One of the drugs his lab is investigating has shown early promise. One of the patients survived 24 months, while other patients in similar circumstances only survived five to 11 months.
Azmi thinks some of the other areas that show the greatest promise in pancreatic cancer research include immunotherapy, which means using a person's immune system to attack the cancer. He also thinks the use of improved computational power and artificial intelligence could help identify the most individualized treatment for every patient.