UF Health researchers will use grant to unravel ties that bind pancreatic diseases

Diseases that afflict the pancreas — pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and diabetes — are often risk factors for one another. Now University of Florida Health researchers are seeking the links between them.

The researchers have received a five-year, $2 million grant to study the link between these three diseases. They will be part of a nationwide group called the Consortium for the Study of Chronic Pancreatitis, Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer, administered by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, or the NIDDK.

Pancreatitis is the benign inflammation and scarring of the pancreas, an organ situated behind the stomach that produces digestive enzymes. Researchers suspect that a relationship exists between pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and diabetes.

“For example, having longstanding diabetes is a risk factor for pancreatitis and cancer,” said Christopher Forsmark, M.D., principal investigator of the grant at UF and a professor of medicine and chief of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. “Chronic pancreatitis is also a risk factor for pancreatic cancer and can cause diabetes.”

He will focus on the study of pancreatitis while fellow researchers Steven Hughes, M.D., an associate professor of surgery and chief of the division of general surgery, will study pancreatic cancer and Kenneth Cusi, M.D., a professor of medicine and chief of the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, will focus on diabetes.

The grant establishes a clinical center at UF that will enable the three researchers to focus more time on each disease. UF’s clinical center is one of 10 such centers across the country, with the others at University of Iowa, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University, Baylor University, Indiana University, Kaiser Permanente, the Ohio State University and the University of Pittsburgh. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will serve as the data coordination and management center.

The consortium will help these different centers share patient data and specimens for study across geographic areas.

“There is a complicated interplay between these three diseases, and the hope is to begin to sort that out,” Forsmark said.

UF Health’s center is funded under grant number 1U01DK108320-01.