‘Purple Night’ at UTHSC Celebrates Life

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For the physicians who treat pancreatic cancer and the researchers searching for a cure, Purple Night was a chance to celebrate survival and look to the future. From left, surgeon Stephen W. Behrman, UTHSC College of Pharmacy Dean Marie Chisholm-Burns, and researcher Subhash Chauhan. (Photos by Don Perry)

UT Health Science Center’s leading pancreatic cancer research team has received multimillion-dollar federal grants to study new markers and treatments for the disease. However, last Saturday night their research got personal, as the group stepped out of the lab and shared a meal with some of the people they are working so hard to help.

More than 100 people attended the The Kosten Foundation’s annual Purple Night at UTHSC. Now in its fourth year, the evening brings together researchers, physicians, patients, and their families to talk about the disease and the ongoing fight to cure it.

“This energizes me to work even harder,” said Subhash Chauhan, PhD, a professor in the Department of

Dr. Chauhan talks about research underway at UTHSC.

Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy and the Department of Pathology in the College of Medicine at UTHSC. “When I see these patients, it really means a lot to me.”

The team lead by Dr. Chauhan, Meena Jaggi, PhD, and Murali Yallapu, PhD, now numbers 24. It has received two substantial pancreatic cancer research grants totaling $3.4 million from the National Cancer Institute. Each grant represents $1.7 million over five years.

Many of the scientists performing this research are funded through The Kosten Foundation, a Memphis-based nonprofit committed to pancreatic cancer research, advocacy, and education. The research takes place in The Dermon II Family and Herb Kosten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at UTHSC, established through a $200,000 grant from the foundation in 2016 and located in the Cancer Research Building.

Some of the researchers at UTHSC, who are working to beat pancreatic cancer.

“This gives us, the whole group (of researchers), an opportunity to see what a cancer patient looks like and how they feel,” Dr. Chauhan said. “Otherwise, we don’t get firsthand information. Here, we get firsthand information from the patient.”

The event was open to the public and showcased work underway at UTHSC to find biomarkers for the disease, establish new treatments, and train the next generation of researchers who will unlock its secrets. It included a meal of Indian food prepared and served by the research team, making the evening a celebration of life.

“Purple Night gives individuals the opportunity to meet the UT Health Science Center’s pancreatic cancer research team, learn what they are working on, and hear about advancements they have made to help fight this deadly disease,” said Alan Kosten, chairman of the Herb Kosten Pancreatic Cancer Charitable Fund. “The Kosten Foundation exists to support events such as these, as well as to help fund research to find a cure for pancreatic cancer.”

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult diseases to diagnose, primarily because there are no definitive symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 53,670 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, and roughly 43,090 will die.

Stephen W. Behrman, MD, FACS, who helped establish the Herb Kosten Pancreatic Cancer Research Endowment Fund, said the night was about the patients and the families in attendance.

“I think they inspire us, and I would like to think that we show them the difference we’re making in pancreatic cancer at UTHSC, and that that inspires them, gives them hope, and impacts their lives in a positive manner,” said Dr. Behrman, a professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology at UTHSC.

He said Purple Night “closes the loop,” bringing patients, families, physicians, and researchers together. “I think they feed off of one another,” he said. “Talking about the disease, no matter whether you’re the patient, the treating physician, or the researcher, it really just gives you the big picture of what we’re all doing as a team together, and that’s what’s beneficial to all of us.”

Marie Chisholm-Burns, dean of the College of Pharmacy, said the evening reflects the “holistic approach” taken by The Kosten Foundation toward the disease. “It’s a great event, celebrating pancreatic cancer survivors and the research we have going on at the College of Pharmacy, as well as at the Health Science Center campus,” she said. “And Subhash is critical to this. His lab group has just exploded, and he has lots of great research looking at biomarkers, but also looking at treatments for pancreatic cancer. It is great to get the patients here, with the scientists, and everyone in between.”

To learn more about The Kosten Foundation, the research in which it is involved, and the free pancreatic cancer support group the foundation offers, please visit the website at www.kostenfoundation.com.

Purple Night  brought researchers, physicians, patients, and families together to learn about developments in pancreatic cancer research and treatment.