Sylvester’s Research Leads to Promising Treatments for Pancreatic Cancer
Every Patient’s Tumor Undergoes Genetic Testing
Pancreatic cancer can be an uphill battle for patients. But there is encouraging news when it comes to beating this disease says Dr. Nipun Merchant, M.D., Sylvester’s Chief of Surgical Oncology.
“Until recently, we really had no chemotherapy that was effective,” Dr. Merchant says. “But as we’re starting to learn more about the tumor microenvironment and how we can manipulate it and reprogram it to make chemotherapy and immunotherapy more effective, these are the things that are starting to happen now, based on a lot of the research that we’re doing here.”
At Sylvester, each pancreatic patient’s tumor is genetically tested. This allows doctors to create novel targeted therapies to attack the tumor for the best possible outcome.
“We really look for other mutations in the tumor, and if we have targeted therapies that we can use against those mutations, then that becomes even more effective types of treatment,” says Dr. Merchant.
Sylvester’s research uncovered a certain mutation in five to seven percent of patients.
“We actually were the first people in the world to describe that if you have that mutation, certain patients are going to be highly responsive to immunotherapy, with two different immunotherapy drugs. In fact, we have a few patients now with advanced pancreas cancer that were refractory to every single type of therapy who are now cured of their pancreas cancer,” Dr. Merchant explains.
Sylvester’s expert multidisciplinary approach ensures each patient receives a personalized treatment plan.
“It’s not just the standard treatment for every patient and see will it work, or will it not work? We discuss every patient, we review every scan, we review every pathology report, we review every genetic test, and we come up with a plan as a team as to what the best approach for that patient will be,” he says.
Dr. Merchant says when it comes to pancreatic cancer, it’s important to keep these three things in mind.
“Number one, first and foremost, it’s not a death sentence. We have so many more options for treatments now.”
“Number two, I think it’s critical coming to a place that sees a high volume of these patients and that has a multidisciplinary team.”
“And number three, being at a center that is doing a lot of research in this, because this is the only way we’re going to make any advances,” says Dr. Merchant.
Nipun Merchant, M.D., is the Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Learn more about treatments and services for pancreatic cancer.
Video transcript compiled by Janna Ross for ‘Focusing on You: Innovations in Modern Medicine,’ a series of health care-related stories airing regularly on WPLG Local 10. For more stories like this one, visit UHealth’s YouTube channel.