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College professor and local student conduct research in battle against pancreatic cancer

By Staff | Jan 3, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED Sarah Cale of Hughesville, examines cancer cells through a microscope.  

MANSFIELD – Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. and has the lowest five-year survival rate of any major cancer. A Mansfield University Biology Professor and three of her students, one from Hughesville, are at the forefront of research, in collaboration with the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, which they hope will one day lead to an effective treatment and eventually a cure of the disease.

Assistant Professor Kristen Long and Biology majors Sarah Cale, Arthur Collier, and AdriannaVaskas have focused their research this fall on understanding the biology of the fibrotic tumor stroma and proliferation signals in pancreatic cancer, a rapidly progressing, incurable disease that has demonstrated unusual resistance to standard therapies including chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation.

“The current understanding is that the dense tumor stroma fosters tumor cell growth and survival by creating an immunosuppressive microenvironment, and it protects tumor cells by acting as a barrier to therapeutic drug delivery,” Long said. “Understanding the relationship between the fibrotic tumor stroma, tumor cell growth, and the inhibition of drug delivery is essential for the development of novel treatment therapies.”

“Specifically, we’re seeking to understand what controls tumor fibrosis deposition and accumulation, the relationship between fibrosis and tumor phenotype and proliferation, and the importance of fibrosis in resistance to therapies,” Long added. “We are working to address these questions though the use of novel, murine pancreas tumor cell lines, previously derived in the laboratory of Dr. Gregory Beatty at the University of Pennsylvania,” she said.

“It’s been incredible to work on cancer research that could impact so many others,” Cale, a native of Hughesville, PA, said. “To be able to take these genes and modify them, or splice the genomes to stop the metastasis of cancer, it is just incredible to be a part of that.”

Long has been able to offer this rare opportunity to her Mansfield students through her connection to the University of Pennsylvania, where she completed a post-doctoral fellowship and was involved in similar research after earning her PhD from Drexel University.

Arthur Collier, a senior from Duncannon, PA has just learned that he will be published in an article co-authored by Drs. Long and Beatty in an upcoming issue of the journal Molecular Immunology. “This has helped me grow as a student and it has also helped to guide me in a direction I want to go in terms of my postgraduate education,” he said.

Vaskas, a junior from Wyalusing, PA, described her passion for cancer research and immunology after graduation. “I’m looking into an MD/PhD program after graduation, so that I can do medical based research,” she said.

The next step for Cale, who graduated on December 16, is graduate school to become a physician’s assistant.

“I never would have imagined that I would get to do this kind of research,” she said. “To be able to say that I’m a published researcher together with Dr. Long is helping me with my application to physician’s assistant school.”

For the professor, working with her students and seeing them develop the passion has driven her and has been a tremendous her reward. “From working in the laboratory, the growth and maturity I have seen in students, as individuals and scientists, has been remarkable.” Long’s drive to continue her efforts and involve more students in research will hopefully one day help conquer pancreatic cancer.