2022 GRANTEE: Janielle Maynard, PhD
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Research Project: Immunobiological Factors Associated with Pancreatic Cancer Disparities
Award: 2022 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Career Development Award
Award Period: July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2024
Dr. Janielle P. Maynard is an Assistant Professor of pathology and oncology at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) School of Medicine. Dr. Maynard’s research interests involve the investigation of immunobiological factors that contribute to cancer health disparities in racial/ethnic minorities and underserved populations. Specifically, her work characterizes the inflammatory landscape of prostate cancer and pancreatic cancer tissues from patients with varied genetic ancestry. Dr. Maynard’s research also investigates the inflammation-associated P2 purinergic receptors as therapeutic targets for the treatment of prostate and pancreatic cancers.
Dr. Maynard graduated with BS degrees in Biology and Chemistry from Howard University and earned a PhD in Translational Biology and Molecular Medicine from Baylor College of Medicine. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Pathology at the JHU School of Medicine where she served as Chief Postdoctoral Fellow in the JHU Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. She also won numerous awards including a Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program Early Investigator Award, an American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Scholar in Training Award, a JHU Postdoctoral Association Conference Award and the JHU School of Medicine Inaugural Postdoctoral Excellence in Mentoring Award.
Pancreatic cancer incidence and mortality rates are highest among Black people in the United States. Socioeconomics as well as access to quality care contribute to differences in outcomes across sub-populations. Additionally, genetic and biological factors may contribute to cancer health disparities. Yet, little is known about the risk factors that drive, exacerbate or predict pancreatic cancer specifically among Black populations. Pancreatic cancer studies that investigate genetic and biological characteristics often do not include sufficient study representation from Black patients.
Progress has been made in understanding the oncologic factors involved in cancer health disparities of other cancer sites. In particular, differences in inflammation and tumor immunobiology across races is well established. Importantly, chronic inflammation is established as a key contributor to pancreatic cancer initiation and progression. Patients with chronic pancreatitis have a nearly eight-fold increased risk of pancreatic cancer, and increased infiltration of some immune cells is associated with worse pancreatic cancer prognosis. Whether the distribution of these immune infiltrates and their association with outcomes is consistent in tissues from Black patients with pancreatic cancer is unknown.
Dr. Maynard and her team hypothesize that there are immunobiological differences between Black and White patients that contribute to pancreatic cancer disparities and that may inform prevention, diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic strategies. Therefore, the objective of this study is to investigate the immune-related gene profile and the inflammatory tumor microenvironment of pancreatic precursor lesions and pancreatic cancer tissues from Black patients. Specifically, Dr. Maynard and colleagues will investigate the immune and inflammation-related transcriptome (the profile of genes that get expressed) in relation to race and disease evolution in pancreatic cancer. The researchers’ second aim will focus on assessing the immune cell infiltrates (types of immune cells present) in tissues from pancreatic cancer precursor lesions and pancreatic tumors from Black and White patients. The proposed study promises novel, critical information that may affect pancreatic cancer prevention, diagnosis, prognosis and therapeutic approaches for Black patients. Additionally, the proposed study generates essential molecular tools with utility beyond the scope of the current proposal.