Purple Pansies donation to cancer research study.
From L to R: Purple Pansies co-chair, Janice Chalovich; Derek Cridebring, Ph.D., TGen vice president, molecular medicine division and clinical partner relations; Haiyong Han, Ph.D., TGen professor; Erin Massey, chief development officer at TGen and vice president of philanthropy at city of Hope; and Maria Fundora, Purple Pansies founder and co-chair.

The Atlanta nonprofit, Purple Pansies, is donating $726,000 towards a pancreatic cancer clinical research study. 

The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) will run the study, which will be led by professor Daniel Von Hoff.

“Purple Pansies has proudly supported TGen and Von Hoff for over a decade now,” said Maria Fundoria, founder of Purple Pansies. “And now, as part of City of Hope, I’m even more confident that our support can help make a difference. They care about the patient. That is their drive. They are focused on new treatments and improving survival. If something’s not working, they look elsewhere to try to make things work. And in the world of pancreatic cancer, that means so much to patients.”

Fundoria founded Purple Pansies in 2009 after her mother died from pancreatic cancer in 2007. 

The organization has raised over $5 million towards its mission. It offers emergency grants and scholarships to individuals and families affected by pancreatic cancer, while funding research and clinical trials.

The study will increase a patient’s unfolded protein response (UPR) to push the cancer cells to reach a state of programmed cell death.

“To effectively treat pancreatic cancer, we need to increase the stress on these cancer cells to trigger the natural biological process called programmed cell death, similar to how leaves fall off a tree in the autumn. Pushing these cells to reach a state of programmed cell death could potentially eliminate the tumor,” said Von Hoff.

UPR is a cellular defense mechanism. When triggered, it sends signals to the cell’s nucleus to restore balance and ensure that proteins are folded properly, which is essential for normal cell function. 

The process selectively targets and kills pancreatic cancer cells by increasing their UPR to intensify the stress on the cancer cells so that their protective mechanisms become overwhelmed, leading to the death of the tumor cells.

Pancreatic cancer cells are resilient and can survive under various stressful conditions. 

Only the strongest of those cells are able to:

  • Avoid the body’s immune system
  • Grow in low oxygen environments
  • Thrive in areas with inflammation and scarring
  • Withstand aggressive treatments like chemotherapy and radiation 

“We are grateful to Maria and the entire Purple Pansies organization,” said Erin Massey, chief development officer at TGen, and vice president of philanthropy at City of Hope. “Their partnership and support have been instrumental in allowing Dr. Von Hoff and his team to drive progress, improve patient outcomes, and most importantly, provide hope to patients challenged by one of the toughest cancers to treat.”

Every year there are approximately 495,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosis worldwide. The five-year survival rate for the disease is now 12%. 

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