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Pancreatic Cancer Researcher Earns NIH Honor

Pancreatic Cancer Researcher Earns NIH Honor

The NIH has honored RUSH physician scientist Faraz Bishehsari, MD, PhD, with the Director’s Transformative Research Award, which includes funding for his innovative pancreatic cancer research. The award, one of the NIH’s most prestigious and exclusive, is given to "exceptionally creative" scientists proposing high-risk, high-impact research. His research focuses on developing new methods to discover treatments for pancreatic cancer.

While the survival rate of pancreatic cancer has increased over the decades, it still is considered largely incurable. Bishehsari is hoping new research will eventually change that. 

Bishehsari has been studying how factors in our environment such as lifestyle choices (circadian disruption, alcohol and dietary pattern) interact with the microenvironment of the tissue (i.e., microbiome and inflammation) to cause gastrointestinal injury and eventually cancer.

In closing the gap between bench and bedside, his lab has been employing tissue-based technologies to establish patient-relevant models and identify individualized targets for new therapies. That has enabled Bishehsari and other scientists to identify molecular profiles that could help predict response to drug treatment in cancer.

“We are using primary cells from actual human tissues, which enable us to study tissue-specific changes outside of the human body,” Bishehsari said. “In this high-risk high-reward project, I am proposing to alter the trajectory of pancreatic cancer by decoding tumor specific circadian profile towards identifying novel therapeutics in cancer."

This transformative grant — awarded to Bishehsari over five years — will help accelerate the pace of his research in pancreatic cancer, with the potential to transform approaches in cancer treatment and medicine in general now and in the future. As a gastroenterologist-scientist, RUSH Digestive Diseases, and associate director of the RUSH Center for Integrated Microbiome and Chronobiology Research, Bishehsari aims to establish pre-clinical predictors of tumor-specific circadian profiles using normal human pancreas tissue, pancreatic cancer cell lines and primary cell models towards discovering personalized targets for better treatments in cancer. 

The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award promotes cross-cutting, interdisciplinary studies to tackle challenges in biomedical and behavioral research by investigators who propose research that could potentially create or challenge existing paradigms using unconventional approaches. The High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supported by the Common Fund at the National Institutes of Health, awards once a year new research grants to support highly innovative scientists who propose visionary and broadly impactful meritorious research projects. Bishehsari’s project is among the only handful Transformative Research awards awarded in 2022. 

Prior to receiving this award, Dr. Bishehsari’s research has also been supported by The Brinson Foundation, Swim Across America and the Institute for Translational Medicine.

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