The institute develops innovative diagnostic and treatment options for pancreatic cancer. Our researchers study the biological pathways by which this aggressive cancer develops. They apply their knowledge of pancreatic cancer biology to develop “smart drugs” for each cancer mutation, as well as more sensitive screening tests.

Basic Research

Pancreatic Biology Laboratory

The Pancreatic Biology Laboratory is the clinical and basic research subdivision of the Pancreatic Surgery Group at Mass General. Since its founding by Dr. Warshaw in 1972, the Lab has published 86 peer-reviewed original papers in such journals as Nature, PNAS, and Gastroenterology, 18 reviews, more than three hundred abstracts, and seven book chapters. The focus of the basic and translational laboratory efforts is the molecular mechanisms underlying the initiation, progression, and maintenance of pancreatic disease and cancer, specifically the contribution of developmental genes. The laboratory also runs a robust clinical research program designed to evaluate the management and care of patients with pancreatic cancer and premalignant cystic lesions.

Genetics Models LaboratoryThe Genetic Models Laboratory focuses on understanding the genetic program for PDAC initiation and progression. We have generated a series of genetically engineered mouse models and primary pancreatic cell culture systems for these studies.  Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is among the most lethal of human cancers. Although a recurrent set of gene mutations has been identified in this cancer type, this information has not translated into significant improvements in patient outcome. Our laboratory focuses on understanding the genetic program for PDAC initiation and progression. We have generated a series of genetically engineered mouse models and primary pancreatic cell culture systems for these studies.

Clinical Research

Gastrointestinal Cancers Clinical Research

The Tucker Gosnell Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers is the first center of excellence in the Harvard system that focuses on integrated multidisciplinary care and research for hepatic and biliary malignancies.

Proton beam therapy

The characteristics of Proton beam therapy enable physicians to deliver higher, more conformed doses to tumor volume while almost completely sparing normal healthy tissue.

Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT)

Locally advanced pancreatic cancer has been generally deemed incurable, as surgical resection has proven the only curative option. While the primary reason for lack of long term survivors is distant metastases, another reason is that current doses of external beam radiation are inadequate to completely sterilize these large, radiation-resistant tumors. Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) allows for delivering a high dose of radiation to the tumor under direct visualization. Our IORT program, started in 1978, was the first to show that long term survival was possible with out surgical resection. We currently use a dedicated linear accelerator within the operating room which produces high energy electrons. IORT is frequently performed in conjunction with either a gastrojejunostomy, hepaticojejunostomy, or both. Ongoing research efforts have included optimizing the integration of IORT as a method of dose escalation to the tumor in the context of a multi-agent chemotherapy program to further reduce the risk of distant metastases. Additionally, we seek to further characterize predictors of long term survivors evaluating not just disease characteristics but also treatment characteristics.

Learn more about pancreatic cancer

Clinical TrialsThe Cancer Center offers patients access to a wide variety of clinical trials of promising new therapies. To learn more about eligibility and participation call 877-789-6100

Warshaw Institute Scholars

2010 Warshaw Institute ScholarsNabeel Bardeesy, PhD
Project Title: Integrative Biology Approach to Dissect the Role of Epigenetic Regulators in Pancreatic Cancer

Peter Caravan, PhD
Project Title: Molecular MR Imaging of the Desmoplastic Response in Pancreatic Cancer

Kevin Haigis, PhD
Project Title: SIRT2 Regulates the Oncogenicity of Mutant K-RAS

Sarah Thayer, MD, PhD
Project Title: Genetic Mapping and Cloning of a Novel Pancreatic Cancer Gene

David  T. Ting, MD
Project Title: Gene Expression Profiling of Pancreatic Circulating Tumor Cells

Omer Yilmaz, MD, PhD
Project Title: In Vivo Characterization of Olfactomedin-4 as a Potential Marker for Pancreatic Progenitor Cells and Its Prognostic Implications in Pancreatic Cancers

2011 Warshaw Institute ScholarsDavid T. Ting, MD
Project Title: Satellite Expression as a Novel Pancreatic Cancer Biomarker

Andrew Liss, PhD
Project Title: Functional Screen for Epigenetic Regulators Involved in Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma

Jennifer Wargo, MD
Project Title: Immunotherapeutic and Epigenetic Approaches Targeting the MAGE antigen in the Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer

Theodore S. Hong, MD
Project Title: FDG PET as a biomarker of autophagy inhibition with hydroxychloroquine in pancreatic cancer

2012 Warshaw Institute ScholarsDavid Ting, MD
Project Title: Significance of Satellite Expression in Pancreatic Cancer

Christina Ferrone, MD,  and Bryan Fuchs, PhD
Project Title: Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition as a prognostic factor for survival and chemosensitivity in pancreatic adenocarcinoma

Nabeel Bardeesy, PhD
Project Title: Targeting master regulators of metabolic reprogramming in PDAC

Projects Funded by the Center

Integrative Biology Approach to Dissect the Role of Epigenetic Regulators in Pancreatic Cancer

Molecular MR Imaging of the Desmoplastic Response in Pancreatic Cancer

SIRT2 Regulates the Oncogenicity of Mutant K-RAS

Genetic Mapping and Cloning of a Novel Pancreatic Cancer Gene

Gene Expression Profiling of Pancreatic Circulating Tumor Cells

In Vivo Characterization of Olfactomedin-4 as a Potential Marker for Pancreatic Progenitor Cells and Its Prognostic Implications in Pancreatic Cancers