Research at the MGH is interwoven throughout more than 30 departments, centers and units and is conducted with the support and guidance of the MGH Research Institute. The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting studies, news and events.

New treatment strategy offers hope for a deadly form of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a deadly and difficult disease to treat due in part to its location at the center of the body, where it is surrounded by organs and blood vessels.

It often is not possible to surgically remove tumors without harming the patient, and chemotherapy drugs can have difficulty penetrating through the high-pressure microenvironment surrounding the tumor cells.

MGH researchers recently published encouraging results from a study showing that the blood pressure drug losartan, when combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, can shrink the tumors of patients
with locally advanced pancreatic cancer – cancer that involves both the pancreas and abdominal blood vessels – to the point where they could be surgically removed.

The study was based on previous research in animal models finding that losartan allowed for more effective drug and oxygen delivery to tumor cells.

After completing the chemoradiotherapy stage, 34 of the 49 participants were able to have their tumors removed, with 30 of those procedures successfully eliminating all evidence of cancer around the tumor.

“To be able to successfully remove the primary tumor in 61 percent of patients sets a new benchmark and offers much hope,’’ says Janet Murphy, MD, MPH, of the MGH Cancer Center and co-lead author of the study.

The team is now conducting a clinical trial to see if adding the cancer immunotherapy drug nivolumab to the treatment can improve upon these results by prompting the body’s immune cells to target and destroy
cancer cells.

What your work lunch says about your overall health

A team of MGH researchers led by Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, of the Department of Medicine, recently published a study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine that evaluated the association between food purchases at work and overall health.

The study involved 602 MGH employees who used hospital cafeterias with the “Choose Well, Eat Well” labeling system. Developed by Thorndike, the system categorizes food choices by three colors. Foods with green dots are the healthiest “choose often” foods, those with yellow dots are “choose less often” foods and those with red dots are the “there’s a better choice” foods.

The team measured the participants’ body mass index, blood pressure and blood sugar levels at the start of the study, then recorded their workplace food purchases for three months. They also assessed the participants’ overall dietary intake using two 24-hour self-reported surveys.

The team found that those who made healthier food purchases at work had a lower risk of obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

This is not to say that your lunch is the main contributor to the state of your overall health, but tracking workplace food choices did give researchers a glimpse of each person’s overall eating habits. “There is definitely a relationship between what you’re purchasing at work and your overall dietary intake and health risk factors,” says Thorndike.

In the future, the team suggests it may be possible to encourage healthy eating at work by providing employees with nutritional feedback via text or email based on a record of their workplace food purchases.

Read more articles from the 06/14/19 Hotline issue.