2014 Grant Recipient Florencia McAllister, MD

Home Research Research Grants Program Grants Awarded Grants Awarded by Year 2014 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Research Grants 2014 Grant Recipient Florencia McAllister, MD

GRANTEE: Florencia McAllister, MD
Institution: MD Anderson Cancer Center
Research Project: Targeting IL-17 signaling axis in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma
Award: 2014 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Career Development Award
Award Period: July 1, 2014 – June 30, 2016
Amount: $200,000

Click here to download Dr. McAllister’s 2014 Grant Snapshot (pdf)

Institution: Johns Hopkins University
Research Project: Role of Inflammatory Cells in Early Pancreatic Tumorigenesis
Award: 2012 Samuel Stroum – Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Fellowship
Award Period: July 1, 2012 – June 30, 2013
Amount: $45,000

Click here to download Dr. McAllister’s 2012 Grant Snapshot (pdf)

Biographical Highlights
Dr. McAllister has been appointed Assistant Professor, tenure track, in the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She will assume this position on June 1, 2014. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University. In 2012, Dr. McAllister received a Fellowship Award from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, generously funded in memory of Samuel Stroum. She is the first Pancreatic Cancer Action Network grant recipient to receive an award as a postdoctoral fellow and then go on to get a grant as an independent researcher.

Originally from Pergamino, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dr. McAllister received her MD at National University of Rosario Medical School. She next moved to the United States, joined an immunology laboratory at Louisiana State University and later moved to the University of Pittsburgh, where she stayed for her medical residency. She then pursued medical oncology and clinical pharmacology fellowships at Johns Hopkins. At MD Anderson, she plans to continue her line of work in pancreatic cancer at the intersection of tumor immunology and cell biology. From a clinical perspective, Dr. McAllister aims to develop novel strategies for pancreatic cancer immune-prevention in high-risk populations. In 2006, she lost her mother to pancreatic cancer; it was then that she found the focus of her career.

2014 Project Overview
Dr. McAllister’s postdoctoral work focused on a protein called IL-17 that gets secreted by inflammatory cells. Dr. McAllister determined that IL-17 expression is increased in the presence of pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, and IL-17 acts on normal pancreas cells to stimulate and accelerate their transformation into precancerous abnormalities known as pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasms, or PanINs. She further found that the cells’ response to IL-17 is mediated by mutant K-RAS, the most commonly mutated gene in pancreatic cancer.

For this project, Dr. McAllister seeks to determine the role and significance of IL-17 on pancreatic cancer cells as the tumor progresses from a PanIN to invasive and ultimately metastatic disease. She will study the inflammatory cells that secrete IL-17 and the cellular compartment upon which IL-17 acts. Furthermore, Dr. McAllister will analyze whether blocking IL-17 activity will have an impact on the growth or progression of pancreatic tumors. Understanding the definitive role of the IL-17 signaling axis in pancreatic cancer would be essential as the backbone for the use of FDA-approved monoclonal antibodies for the prevention and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

2012 Project Overview
An activating mutation in the gene K-Ras is known to be an early event in the progression of pancreatic cancer. In fact, about 30 percent of precancerous pancreatic abnormalities, known as pancreatic intraepithelial neoplasms, or PanIN lesions, already express mutant K-Ras, and the frequency goes up to nearly 100 percent in advanced pancreatic cancer. Mice genetically engineered to express mutant K-Ras in their otherwise normal pancreas are known to develop PanINs. This process is accelerated in the presence of pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, leading to progression to pancreatic cancer.

Dr. McAllister seeks to understand the relationship between pancreatitis and development and progression of pancreatic cancer. Specifically, her focus will be on a type of inflammatory cells called TH17 that are known to be pro-inflammatory, and hypothesized to play a part in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. She will use several approaches to determine the role of these cells in pancreatic cancer formation. Overall, Dr. McAllister hopes that this approach will shed light on the potential of preventing pancreatic cancer using a targeted immuno-suppressive approach.