Stanford Cancer Institute

SCI Pancreatic Cancer Innovation Awardee

October 2023

A $50,000 SCI Pancreatic Cancer Innovation Award was awarded to Katherine Ferrara, PhD, professor of radiology, for her proposal “Claudin-4-targeted imaging and readiothergnostics to treat pancreatic cancer.” Ferrara’s work spans engineering, medicine, chemistry, and biology with a focus on developing image-guided drug delivery systems for the treatment of cancer. 

The prognosis for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is generally very poor, and there is, therefore, a critical need for new treatment options. Peptide targeted radionuclide therapy (PTRT) is one promising approach. PTRT works by delivering toxic doses of radiation to the precise locations within the body where tumors are found. This ability relies on a precise match between PTRT peptides (i.e., short proteins) and specific receptors on tumor cells. In PTRT, these peptides are bound to a radioactive element. Thus, when the peptides bind to the matching tumor cells, the cells are exposed to toxic radiation. The Ferrara lab has demonstrated that pancreatic cancer cells express high levels of a protein called Claudin-4 and have created a peptide that binds Claudin-4 with high affinity. In mice, this peptide binds pancreatic tumors but not other tissues. With the support of the SCI Pancreatic Cancer Innovation Award, Ferrara will extend this work to determine the therapeutic potential of this peptide. She plans to test variations of the radio-labeled peptide and evaluate their ability to treat mice with pancreatic cancer. If the experiment succeeds, Ferrara plans to translate this treatment strategy to humans. In addition to providing much needed hope for more effective treatment of pancreatic cancer, this proposal comes at a very opportune time, as Stanford is about to inaugurate a new radiotherapeutic center.