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NDSU launches center to study diagnosis, treatment of pancreatic cancer


North Dakota State University is set to receive almost $10 million in federal grants to launch a research center focused on pancreatic cancer.

The Center for Diagnostic and Therapeutic Strategies in Pancreatic Cancer launched March 1. with three junior investigators, said Sanku Mallik, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences and director of the center.

This will be the university's first disease-specific center, and Mallik said the research could lead to new methods of diagnosing and treating the highly lethal disease.

"All the other cancers, the rate of mortality is going down," said D.K. Srivastava, a James A. Meier professor of chemistry and biochemistry and co-director of the center. "Pancreatic cancer, rate of mortality is going up."

Just 7.2 percent of patients survive five years or more after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The university received official notice of a $2 million grant for the center from the National Institutes of Health on Feb. 22, following an announcement by North Dakota members of Congress on Feb. 17.

This grant will be the first of five awards in five years, meaning the university could receive up to $9.6 million, spokeswoman Carol Renner said in an email. Continued funding would depend on "availability of the funds and satisfactory progress of the project," the award notice said.

Those funds will go toward supplies and some of the salaries of center employees. While the center will not require a new building, Srivastava said officials are looking for a supplementary grant to buy new equipment.

Over the next five years, the center will take on three more junior investigators, for a total of six, as well as 12 graduate students and six postdoctoral researchers. Each summer, the center will also employ 10 undergraduates.

The three junior investigators who will kick off the center's work are Guodong Liu, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Estelle Leclerc, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences; and Katie Reindl, assistant professor of biological sciences.

Liu is studying a new method of early detection through nanomaterials—for example, in blood or urine samples. Leclerc is making monoclonal antibodies that would attack the surface of cancer cells. Reindl is combining well-established cancer drugs with active ingredients from natural products, such as broccoli.

They will study these topics at the cellular level and in mice, Srivastava said.

The idea is that these junior investigators will "graduate" from the center when they get their own funding, Mallik said. "And then we get more junior investigators."

The grant is eligible to be renewed for two more five-year terms, for a total of 15 years.
Story written by Grace Lyden and published by Forum News Service at

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