Under the Microscope: New research takes aim at pancreatic cancer tumors

Published: Jul. 24, 2018 at 4:09 PM CDT
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For every 100 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, eight make it to the five-year survival mark. More than 55,000 are diagnosed each year; 44,000 of them die according to the National Cancer Institute.

For the first part of this three-part series, we go "Under the Microscope" on pancreatic cancer.

Randy Schaff continues to live and fight pancreatic cancer. He showed a scar from his resection, which removed his pancreas and parts of other organs.

"When somebody's going in there they need to make sure there they don't leave anything in there, not even one dot of cancer,” said Schaff’s oncologist Dr. Peter Kurniali with Sanford Health in Bismarck.

"They took out quite a bit of my stuff,” said Schaff.

The New Salem farmer wasn't always ready to get back on the horse.

"I ain't going to lie I gave up. Being in and out of the hospital all the time I got tired of fighting." NATS ""The wife pushed me through that. Got me back on my feet and started pushing me. My youngest boy Wyatt, he's been a big help. He's been taking care of the horses and exercising them while I've been laid up,” said Schaff.

His treatment has to be extreme if he wants to be part of the 8 percent who survive pancreatic cancer after five years. With the help of the National Institutes of Health, North Dakota State University researchers are changing those odds.

"It's hard to get drugs on the inside so it ended up you're giving the treatment and attacking the cells on the outside but they just continue to grow back. So what we're trying to do with our treatment is try to penetrate into the tumor and then try and possibly break it up from the inside and that way you can target it from all angles,” said graduate researcher Matthew Confeld.

To get inside the tumor, Confeld adds different polymers to chemotherapy drugs, essentially turning each molecule into a cancer busting drill.

"This decreases side effects, increases the therapeutic efficacy and hopefully helps cure people of their cancers,” said Confeld.

This treatment won't be around for Randy. But his treatment is successful so far, and he's already setting his sights after cancer.

"Next year I'll be the first one on the road with a smile on my face and you know, keep going about my life doing what we do and working horses,” said Schaff.

And getting back to normal. Confeld says the process from start to workable drug will take about 10 years. The next step for him is an animal study. As for Randy Schaff- he’s expecting to finish up his treatments in October.

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