Pancreatic cancer is a sneaky, aggressive and often-deadly form that is tough to diagnose and difficult to treat, but one victim's widower says a new drug his wife's team developed at the University of Minnesota is bringing hope to the afflicted and their loved ones.
With pancreatic cancer, there really aren't any specific symptoms and a diagnosis is essentially a death sentence. The cancer usually appears on the front of the pancreas and quickly spreads to other organs. Most patients live just six months with the disease, and 80 percent of them die within a year.
Now, the news that a new treatment may be on the horizon is bringing hope to many -- including the widower of a researcher who lost her life fighting with pancreatic cancer.
The only current drug to treat the cancer increases life expectancy by just six weeks, and finding a cure has been a goal for many -- including Carole Bland.
"Carole was always a fighter, and all she did was move forward," said Dick Bland, her widower.
It seems ironic that Carole was on the research team working to develop the drug when she was diagnosed herself.
"I wish she was here to share it," Bland said.
Bland told FOX 9 News he remembers the last few weeks of his wife's life, especially a conversation she had in the hospital with a member of her team, Dr. Ashok Saluja.
"She was so enthusiastic about this [drug]," Dick Bland recalled. "She said, 'It's not going to help me, but go out and get that research done."
That's exactly what the team did. Four years after Carole Bland died, the finished product has arrived.
"This drug is amazingly effective in all animal models we have tried," said Saluja, who added that he has spent 30 years dreaming of a day he would find a drug to treat pancreatic cancer. "It is just amazing. I have never been more optimistic in my life."
Saluja and his team of 18 at the developed a novel drug to treat the disease at the U, and to prove their findings, they injected the drug they call Minnelide into mice with pancreatic cancer.
"The mice that were not treated -- just like in humans -- died within 45 days," Saluja said. "The ones which were treated, they lived."
Now, as he looks around at the team that brought him to this point -- and the team member they lost, Saluja said he can't help but think of John Lennon's song, "Imagine."
"I start imagining that one day, and the one day in my lifetime is very soon," he said. "Maybe this curse of pancreatic cancer will be over."
Now, the team is waiting for the FDA's approval to start human trials, which they hope to start by next spring or possibly sooner.
"It's a reward hat comes too late for her, but it's a reward that will be around for others," Dick Bland said. "She would be happy to see it."