PanCAN and the pancreatic cancer community mourn the passing of Gloria Petersen, PhD. Dr. Petersen was Consultant and Professor of Epidemiology at Mayo Clinic, where she held the Purvis and Roberta Tabor Professorship. Dr. Petersen was a longstanding member of PanCAN’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board (SMAB) and also received a PanCAN Early Detection Targeted Research Grant in 2017.
Dr. Petersen’s primary research interest was in understanding hereditary pancreatic cancer and the genetic changes that cause the disease. One of her and her colleagues’ seminal findings was that inherited genetic changes were similarly present in people with pancreatic cancer who did or did not have a family history of the disease. This helped lead to updated guidelines recommending that all patients – regardless of family history – undergo genetic testing for inherited mutations.
Aside from her countless research contributions, Dr. Petersen is remembered as a fantastic mentor, advisor, advocate and friend.
“Gloria has been such an amazing and steadfast champion for PanCAN,” said Julie Fleshman, JD, MBA, PanCAN’s President and CEO. “I am so incredibly grateful for her uplifting spirit, motivating leadership and the critical advice she has given me and the organization over the years.
“Her legacy to the field and to PanCAN is immeasurable.”
Dr. Petersen was a familiar face to many of PanCAN’s volunteers and supporters, as a dedicated attendee of PanCAN Advocacy Day events over the years. Dr. Petersen joined congressional meetings side-by-side with volunteers representing Minnesota, gave presentations about the research field and participated in a riveting panel discussion that included then-National Cancer Institute (NCI) director, Dr. Ned Sharpless.
“Gloria’s constant presence at our Advocacy Day event and in meetings with members of Congress will always be fond memories for me,” Fleshman said. “Her enthusiasm for the impact that all of us as advocates could have for pancreatic cancer research and for patients was heartfelt and meaningful.”
Dr. Petersen also left an indelible mark on her fellow SMAB members.
“Gloria has been a guidepost in my life for over 25 years,” shared Alison Klein, PhD, SMAB member and a former trainee and longstanding collaborator of Dr. Petersen’s. “Her work will continue through the collaborative networks she helped to establish as well her mentees, collaborators and friends.
“Gloria will keep inspiring us to do better.”
Said SMAB member Suresh Chari, MD, who was a former colleague of Dr. Petersen’s at Mayo Clinic, “I could walk into Gloria’s office any time unannounced, and she always had time to discuss yet another crazy idea for a study.”
He added, “Key words as I think of Gloria: unflappable, selfless, generous, dedicated, passionate, data driven, scientific rigor, open to outside-the-box ideas.”
In a note to Dr. Petersen prior to her passing, Fleshman wrote, “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your dedication, leadership, support and friendship. Your important role in our PanCAN family will always burn brightly.”
We offer our deepest condolences to Dr. Petersen’s family, friends, colleagues and the entire PanCAN and pancreatic cancer community.