My initial interest in cancer was purely academic. I was curious how genetic mutations would transform a normal cell and render it uncontrollable. That quest for knowledge brought me under the tutelage of Drs. Scott Kern and Ralph Hruban for my postdoctoral fellowship training at Johns Hopkins University, where I knew I would be learning from the best about pancreatic cancer.

At first, I approached pancreatic cancer research with the same impassive scientific energy that I had been trained so well to do in graduate school, until one day in came an advocacy group to the laboratory and my perspectives on science and cancer research were altered forever.

The advocacy group consisted largely of surviving family members of pancreatic cancer patients. I was immediately struck by their buoyant and optimistic spirits despite their personal losses. Their glowing enthusiasm for research was powered by their love for their lost family members and the hope for the future. I was profoundly moved by their abilities to transform their personal losses into a powerful advocacy. It also dawned on me that every single DNA sample that I had handled had a face and a family. From then on pancreatic cancer ceased to exist for me as an academic subject but rather as a race for a cure.

Over the years, I have had the honor of working with various advocacy groups and have benefited immensely from their unrelenting support. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is an advocacy organization that has been there for me since the start of my career. With the support of a 2007 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Pilot Grant, I was able to generate the preliminary data I needed to subsequently obtain a R21 innovative grant from the National Cancer Institute. More recently, I am honored again to have received a 2010 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network – AACR Innovative Grant (renamed from Pilot Grant).

Today, I am still determined to understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie cell development/differentiation and proliferation/apoptosis (cell death), but with the mission of improving patient care. My research focuses on both cancer genetics and mouse modeling for pancreatic cancer. Working with a cohesive group of physicians and scientists who are passionate about pancreatic cancer at Columbia University, I am proud that all our research projects are translational research; whatever we discover in the lab is clinically relevant towards improving detection, prognosis and therapy for pancreatic cancer patients. In fact, the current Innovative Grant from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will allow us to test a novel therapeutic in a newly developed pancreatic mouse model as a collaborative project on campus.

I want to thank all the advocates out there, especially those who did not choose this battle but have decided to stay and become comrades in this war against pancreatic cancer. Your spirits have touched me.

Gloria Su, PhD
Assistant Professor, Departments of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery and Pathology
Columbia University

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