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Pitt Researchers Receive Funding in Support of Gastrointestinal Cancer Research

PITTSBURGH, April 16, 2008 —For the third year in a row, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute researchers have received funding from the GIST Cancer Institute – a patient driven organization that funds research on gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GISTs. These tumors occur in the gastrointestinal tract and are particularly difficult to treat over time.

The $135,000 award supports the research of Anette Duensing, M.D., research assistant professor of pathology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. According to Dr. Duensing, GIST research in her laboratory aims to better understand the biology of GIST responses to the drug Gleevec, as well as the mechanisms underlying drug resistance. These studies provide the framework for the development of more effective treatment options for GIST patients.

“A large number of patients with GIST develop resistance to Gleevec, about two or three years after being treated successfully,” said Dr. Duensing. “The goal of our research is to avoid and overcome resistance to Gleevec and to help patients achieve long-term remission.”

To improve the efficacy of Gleevec, Dr. Duensing’s lab is examining how cells respond to the treatment. She has identified a novel protein that appears to influence tumor cell response to Gleevec and is manipulating levels of this protein in GIST cells in an attempt to destroy tumor cells faster and more effectively.

This year’s award presents a significant increase from years past. In 2006 Dr. Duensing received $5,000, and last year she received $26,000.

The GIST Cancer Research Fund was founded in 2001 by Tania Stutman, who was diagnosed with the disease in 1998. Since its founding, the fund has raised and awarded approximately $440,000 for GIST research.

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, comprises the academic and research activities for cancer at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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