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Henry Ford to Apply Data Analytics to Pancreatic Cancer with $20M Gift

An anonymous $20 million donation will help Henry Ford Health System leverage big data analytics and precision medicine techniques to the challenge of pancreatic cancer.

Precision medicine and data analytics

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- An anonymous $20 million donation to Henry Ford Health System will help the health system leverage big data analytics for the early detection and better treatment of pancreatic cancer.

The Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center will focus on fostering international research partnerships to expand knowledge about pancreatic cancer biomarkers, develop earlier detection methods, and launch innovative clinical trials.

Researchers will use cutting-edge strategies, including artificial intelligence, to analyze large volumes of medical records and imaging studies in pursuit of treatments and potential cures for the highly deadly disease.

“We are grateful for this transformational gift that will allow Henry Ford to bring the best minds in the world together to shine an important light on pancreatic cancer. It marks a crucial step in advancing pancreatic cancer research with the goal of increasing survivorship for patients diagnosed with this terrible disease,” says Wright Lassiter III, President and CEO, Henry Ford Health System.

Pancreatic cancer is diagnosed in more than 53,000 patients each year.  The disease has a five-year survival rate of just 8 percent.

“While we’ve made incredible advances in cancer diagnosis and treatment, where some types of cancer are now curable, pancreatic cancer remains nearly a universally fatal diagnosis,” says Steven N. Kalkanis, MD, Medical Director, Henry Ford Cancer Institute, and Chair, Department of Neurosurgery.

“One of the challenges is pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late, generally at an advanced stage, making it difficult to treat. If we are going to move the needle, we need a global crowd-sourced effort to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier and give patients a fighting chance for survival.”

Dr. David Kwon, Director of Surgical Oncology at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute and Director of the Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic at Henry Ford Hospital, will oversee the new organization.

The global consortium will focus specifically on questions of early detection, big data analytics, translational research, precision medicine, and clinical trials.

Henry Ford is a participant in the national All of Us precision medicine project, and already has international research connections in countries such as Israel, India, and Saudi Arabia through its Innovation Institute. 

These relationships may help to collect big data and leverage the latest breakthroughs in clinical trials and data analytics strategies from its partners around the globe.

The gift will also establish an endowed director’s fund to support the addition of a pancreatic cancer clinical expert and research leader to add to the center.  An administrative director will round out the new team.

The anonymous donation adds to Henry Ford’s ongoing work in precision medicine and cancer research.  A $40 million gift in 2016 from Detroit businessman Mort Harris is also being used to support pancreatic cancer research after Harris’ wife Brigitte passed away from the disease.

That funding is also helping to establish new initiatives around precision medicine and brain cancer, Henry Ford said.

“Never has there been a greater momentum in the fight against pancreatic cancer, and unfortunately, the incidence of pancreatic cancer will only continue to rise,” said Kwon.

“To effectively fight pancreatic cancer, we need to work to find solutions to problems that have eluded clinicians and researchers to date, while embracing a culture of innovation and collaboration.”


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