Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research launches new year with new hope

The Board of Directors for Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research and University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers attend a recent grant review meeting. Seated from left, Colin Daugherty, Jim Comerford, Janet Comerford, Jim Noon, Maureen Shul, Ann Adams, Stacy Ohlsson and Kathryn Haber. Standing from left, Drs. Hatim Sabaawy, Heide Ford, Rui Zhao, Todd Pitts, Carlo Marchetti, Christina Coughlan and Sana Karam.

$175,000 in recently funded grants pay tribute to friend and longtime survivor Cathy Noon

By Peter Jones

In the face of continued loss and challenges, Colorado’s Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research has announced four new and promising locally-born scientific studies that the organization is funding—just as the devastating disease has taken the life of another beloved friend. 

In a tribute to Cathy Noon, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in December after a hard-fought five-year battle, Wings of Hope is providing $175,000 in new grants to support groundbreaking research at the University of Colorado Cancer Center on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. 

Noon was a respected civic leader who served as mayor of Centennial. She and her husband, Jim, were also Wings of Hope board members. Two days after her passing, the board met for its annual grant award presentations. Despite the timing, Jim attended, knowing how important the work was to her. The meeting and this year’s grant awards were both dedicated to Cathy’s memory.

Noon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2017 and quickly became a fierce advocate for raising awareness and funding research, even while facing her own battle with pancreatic cancer. She had worked closely with Maureen Shul, the Wings of Hope executive director who founded the organization more than a decade ago after losing two family members to the disease.

Shul spoke at Noon’s celebration of life.

“One of the projects Wings of Hope funded two years ago, of which Cathy was an integral part, involved radiotherapy in combination with a specific drug for patients with borderline resectable pancreatic cancer,” Shul said. “On Jan. 3 of this year, that project had progressed to opening as a clinical trial, all of which was dedicated to Cathy’s memory by the researchers and physicians involved.”

Resectable refers to the cancers for which the tumors can be surgically removed.

The first newly funded research project, led by Dr. Christina Coughlan, aims to tackle one of the most frustrating challenges in treating pancreatic cancer—the seemingly inevitable frustration of late-stage diagnosis. Coughlan and her team hope to increase the chances of catching the deadly disease earlier by finding out if some genes in the body can serve as indicators—or biomarkers—of pancreatic cancer. The study will borrow an approach that has been successfully used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and looks to develop a biomarker that may serve as the basis for an eventual routine screening. Wings of Hope has awarded $50,000 to help fund the important research.

Another $50,000 grant will go to Dr. Marco Del Chario’s efforts to get a better grasp on the evasive neoplasms—or abnormal growths—that are often harbingers of pancreatic cancer. Plans are to reproduce the structure and function of the pancreatic duct in a lab setting to more fully understand the neoplasms’ connection to the development of pre-cancerous lesions. 

A third $50,000 grant has been marked to support Dr. Sana Karam’s continued research into inventive uses of immunotherapies to fight the development of cancer tumors in the pancreas. This new study will use animal models to see how complementary treatments may lead to greater successes.

The final grant of $25,000 will support Dr. Carlo Marchetti’s new study that will use mice to develop methods to treat inflammation and the bodily resistance associated with one of the chemotherapies used to treat pancreatic cancer.

Wings of Hope’s mission is to provide seed funding to newer research projects that may potentially later receive larger funding from the National Institutes of Health and other major national sources. Without seed funding, many newer promising research projects never get attention from larger funders, a fact that illustrates the importance of even small contributions to this important cause.

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