For those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the battle is mainly uphill. The disease is hard to identify. Treatment options are limited. Response rates are low. But a West Virginia University School of Medicine surgery resident will use an award from the Laurence and Jean DeLynn Cancer Research Fellowship to help explore new and better treatment therapies for pancreatic cancer.
Britney Harris, M.D., a trainee in the general surgery residency program has been selected for the second year of the fellowship. She is a surgery resident and currently a member of the Laboratory of Dr. Brian Boone where she is completing her research.
Harris’s research is two-fold. The first portion looks at the inflammation response.
In pancreatic cancer the process of tumor formation is unique. The cancers form a very thick protective wall – which isolates them from the rest of the body but also creates a barrier to getting treatment to penetrate the tumor.
“Immunotherapy alone has been very successful in other types of cancer, but not for pancreatic cancer, and I want to explore why that is,” she said. “We know that neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) play a role in why immunotherapy medicines aren’t as effective in pancreatic cancer. At WVU, we are trying to develop a mechanism to block the tumor’s NET response and enhance the immune system at the same time. We think this will allow the body to better fight cancer.”
The second area of the study intends to identify a scoring system for pancreatic tumors to help guide medical teams in the optimal duration of chemotherapy prior to surgery. Early applications of this tool seem promising and give clinicians more clues about when a patient on chemotherapy is ready for surgery. By using the system clinicians can alter the dosage or length of time for each patient based on their individual needs.
“Dr. Harris has shown true consistency in her passion for research that began in medical school that has continued through her residency and exemplifies a dedication to this profession and her patients,” said Dr. Brian Boone, MD, is a surgical oncologist at the WVU Cancer Institute and an assistant professor of Microbiology, Immunology & Cell Biology in the School of Medicine “I am thrilled that Britney has been presented this award, which allows her to pursue research that will lead to better treatments and allow us to save more patients from pancreatic cancer.”
Cancer research and advocacy have long been a part of Harris’s life. She became involved in American Cancer Society Relay for Life events in high school after several loved ones were diagnosed with the disease.
During her time at WVU, she was able to work on breast cancer research.
“My experience coupled with my training inspired me to follow this path towards helping others and extend my research commitment. One of the things that appeals to me about oncology is that it is always evolving and improving and there will always be new things that I can learn.”
Harris is a native of Indiana and earned her undergraduate degree in biology from Purdue University, before pursuing medicine at WVU.
Brian Boone, MD, is a surgical oncologist at the WVU Cancer Institute and an assistant professor of surgical oncology, and an adjunct assistant professor in Microbiology, Immunology & Cell Biology andin the School of Medicine
Britney Harris, MD, is a resident in the WVU School of Medicine and a research fellow at WVU Cancer Institute
MEDIA CONTACT: Lori Acciavatti
WVU Cancer Institute
Photo credit: Davidson Chan/WVU Photo