Wilmot Cancer Institute Inspiration Award Goes To Pancreatic Cancer Association of Western New York

May 28, 2015

The Pancreatic Cancer Association of Western New York (PCAWNY) began with a chance meeting online six years ago. Three local women with loved ones facing this difficult cancer connected on a message board, and they resolved to find a way to help others and change the future of the disease.

Today, PCAWNY is a growing community force with dozens of members, including several long-term survivors. It connects and educates patients, families and physicians throughout the region, and it raises money that stays local. In doing so, PCAWNY has developed a close relationship with the Wilmot Cancer Institute and a handful of its researchers who are dedicated to pursuing new strategies to slow the disease and extend survival.

Since 2010, PCAWNY has raised more than $320,000 to support cancer research in Rochester. With the work that was enabled by these funds, Wilmot researchers were able to secure a $2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

In recognition of the group’s dedication and support, PCAWNY will be honored with the Inspiration Award at Wilmot Cancer Institute’s annual Discovery Ball on Friday, May 29, at the Hyatt Regency Rochester. This is the first time the Inspiration Award has been given to a group rather than an individual.

“When we started five years ago, we couldn’t have dreamt that we would accomplish what we have,” said Lorie Perez, executive director of PCAWNY, whose mother is a pancreatic cancer survivor. “To be honored this way is almost overwhelming. It’s truly humbling and inspiring.”

Established in 2009, this all-volunteer organization focuses on raising awareness about the disease, educating the community, and providing peer support to patients and families affected by pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease. The group’s signature fundraiser, Step It Up! Cure Pancreatic Cancer, is an annual walk that raises money for research.

Pancreatic cancer afflicts about 45,000 people annually in the United States, and the average five-year survival rate hovers at around 6 percent.

“Strides are being made with other cancers because they have the funding to support research,” said Mary Ellen Smith, PCAWNY’s associate executive director, who lost her mother to the disease. “We want to elevate the importance of funding pancreatic cancer research so equal strides can be made.”

“All of our families have been treated locally, and we have always felt that we wanted to keep the funds we raise local,” Perez said. “We could see that Wilmot was at the forefront with promising research, and we could see that our funds could have a real impact here.”

PCAWNY helped to fund the research of Aram F. Hezel, M.D., acting chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a medical oncologist who treats patients with pancreatic cancer. Hezel collaborates with Wilmot’s Director of Research Hartmut “Hucky” Land, Ph.D., who is studying a gene network that controls cancer progression and discovered a gene with a critical link to pancreatic cancer. Hezel and Land found that when this gene, known as Plac8, is inactivated, pancreatic tumor growth in mice slows or stops, significantly extending survival.

“PCAWNY has allowed us to understand this tough disease better by supporting our research,” Hezel said. “They have made Rochester a better place both for science and patient care, and on a deeply personal level, they help to sustain the energy and drive required to care for patients with pancreatic cancer and to dig deeper into the many questions this cancer poses.”

“Without PCAWNY’s support, the $2 million from the National Cancer Institute would not have arrived,” Land said. “Philanthropic support for research is critical as federal funding for research is declining, and to have them on our team is so powerful.”

The Pancreatic Cancer Association of Western New York (PCAWNY), an all-volunteer organization established in 2009, is a Rochester, N.Y.-based charity established to create awareness, raise funding for research, and advocate for all those affected by pancreatic cancer. Learn more at www.pcawny.org.

UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute is the Finger Lakes region’s leader for cancer care and research. As a component of Strong Memorial Hospital, Wilmot Cancer Institute provides specialty cancer care services at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a network of locations throughout the region. The Institute also includes a team of 100 scientists who investigate many aspects of cancer, with an emphasis on how best to provide precision cancer care. To learn more, visit wilmot.urmc.edu.

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