My 2003 Career Development Award from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network helped validate my decision to focus my scientific and clinical efforts on diseases of the pancreas. My father instilled a value in me to never back down from a challenge, and pancreas cancer certainly qualifies.

I believe that there are two major windows in which pancreas cancer can be detected early enough to be treatable, or even prevented altogether. Patients with strong family history of the disease should be carefully monitored to ensure early diagnosis and discovery of potentially dangerous lesions. In addition, my professional focus has been on precancerous abnormalities of the pancreas, in the form of cysts.

I am extremely proud to serve as the Surgical Director of the Indiana University Pancreas Cyst and Cancer Early Detection Center. Our group manages the care and follow-up of nearly 1,000 patients. Often, patients are diagnosed with a pancreas cyst by accident: the doctor has ordered testing for another ailment, and observes something suspicious on the patient’s pancreas. As a surgeon, one of my most rewarding moments is being able to inform a patient post-surgically that I successfully removed his or her cyst, thereby removing the threat of it progressing further. Had this cyst gone undetected, the prognosis would likely have been much worse.

A major goal of our cyst clinic as well as advocacy organizations like the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is to increase awareness about diseases of the pancreas. Once both patients and their physicians know to match symptoms with a potential pancreatic abnormality, conduct the correct tests, and have an awareness of family history, we will have the ability to cure many instances of pancreatic cancer before they even start.

A recent venture of mine is serving as the founder and CEO of a company called “B9”. Our goal is to define benign biomarkers that can distinguish cysts with the potential to progress to invasive cancer from those that can be considered harmless. The peace of mind and avoidance of invasive procedures could provide immeasurable comfort to individuals with benign pancreas cysts, while early awareness of the presence of more dangerous cysts can ultimately save lives.

I am very grateful for my early-career funding from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and thank the donors, volunteers, advisors, and staff for all of their hard work directing more attention and critical funding to this disease.

For more information about the Indiana University Pancreas Cyst and Cancer Early Detection Center, please click here.

Max Schmidt, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS
Associate Professor of Surgery and Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Indiana University School of Medicine

Click here to learn about other recipients of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network grants