Internationally recognized physician-scientist to lead UNMC pancreas cancer program

by Bill O'Neill
December 16, 2021

Image with caption: Sunil Hingorani, MD, PhD

Sunil Hingorani, MD, PhD

Sunil Hingorani, MD, PhD, a highly accomplished and internationally recognized pancreas cancer researcher and clinician, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Nancy Armitage Pancreas Cancer Presidential Chair and the first director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center of Excellence at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine. 

Dr. Hingorani, currently a professor and endowed research chair at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, will begin at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine on May 1.   

"We want to continue to excel among the world leaders in pancreas cancer research and treatment, and Dr. Hingorani is someone with proven results who can lead our team’s efforts," Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, said. "Through our center of excellence and now with Dr. Hingorani, we will continue to discover new and better ways to prevent and earlier diagnose this terrible disease, and then provide patients with better treatment options.  We will not stop until we have stopped pancreas cancer." 

"The incidence of pancreatic cancer is on the rise, which drives the need for early identification, and new treatment methods," Nebraska Medicine CEO Jim Linder, MD, said. "It is timely for Dr. Hingorani to be joining UNMC and Nebraska Medicine. Through his leadership, we expect him to expand the existing research and clinical programs. I could not be more delighted to welcome him to Nebraska." 

Pancreas cancer is among the world’s most lethal cancers. Often discovered after it has spread to other organs, the 5-year-survival rate is 13 percent for those for whom the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs; that rate drops to 3 percent if the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.   

"This is a unique time in pancreas cancer research and clinical care as the field as a whole has developed a much deeper understanding of the many ways in which this disease evades our ability to detect and diagnose it, and of how it resists virtually every form of chemical and radiotherapy we throw at it," Dr. Hingorani said. "The timing could not be more perfect to capitalize on our new understanding of the disease through this extraordinary commitment and show of faith by the University of Nebraska, Nebraska Medicine, the state of Nebraska, the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, and numerous highly motivated individuals." 

Dr. Hingorani said the goal of the new center will be to truly transform what is considered state-of-the-art in the early detection, diagnosis, chemoprevention and treatment of pancreas cancer. 

"Coalescing the outstanding talent already present at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, complemented by additional recruits as necessary, around a new facility together with sufficient resources, should enable us to succeed," Dr. Hingorani said. "I am deeply honored to be named to this prestigious chair in remembrance of Nancy Armitage and to be able to work with such gifted and committed colleagues in this endeavor." 

Dr. Hingorani will spend most of his time at UNMC conducting and overseeing a comprehensive translational research program, but will also lead the development of a real-time, multi-disciplinary clinic for pancreas cancer patients at Nebraska Medicine. There, he will collaborate with specialists in medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, transplant surgery, nursing, pathology, radiology, nutrition, physical therapy, social services, spiritual services and several other areas to provide comprehensive care to pancreas cancer patients. 

"Dr. Hingorani is an exceptional translational scientist in the area of pancreatic cancer research and will be responsible for building not only his own research program, but also forming a team of scientists, clinicians, and a translational team of experts in pancreatic cancer research and care.  We are excited to have him leading this important area," said Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, Harris Professor and chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology at UNMC.     

Dr. Hingorani’s research success is well-documented. He helped develop the first mouse models to accurately mimic human pancreas cancer from its precancerous inception to its advanced stages. Dr. Hingorani has used these models to identify genetic events, signaling pathways, and collaborating cell types that contribute to the aggressiveness of ductal adenocarcinoma, the most common and deadly form of pancreas cancer. Dr. Hingorani has made multiple breakthroughs in his lab that have informed the course of his latest phase of research, as well as that of others, and his lab is testing these ideas in a novel Murine Clinical Trials Program to identify those strategies most likely to succeed in patients. 

Dr. Hingorani will build upon a team at UNMC that already receives more than $8.5 million in annual funding from the National Cancer Institute, including a prestigious Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant.  

"Through a team science effort, led by Dr. Hingorani and others, the Pancreatic Cancer Research Center of Excellence will conduct cutting edge research in the lab and ultimately bring new therapies, treatments, and early pancreatic screening techniques to the patient," said Ken Cowan, MD, PhD., director and physician-in-chief of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. "Dr. Hingorani’s expertise and experience will perfectly complement the work of physicians and scientists here at UNMC.  Ultimately, this collaboration and symbiosis will provide immense benefit to our patients." 

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING:  

Jennifer Larsen, MD, vice chancellor for research: "Pancreatic cancer is already one of UNMC’s signature research programs. We very much welcome the addition of Dr. Hingorani as the Center director who will further ‘deepen our bench’ to understand and create strategies better able to conquer this disease." 

James Armitage, MD, Shapiro Professor of Medicine: "Dr. Hingorani is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in pancreatic cancer.  The program that he will lead at Nebraska will make an important contribution to improving the outlook for patients with this dreadful disease." 

Theresa Franco, vice president of Cancer Clinical Operations, Nebraska Medicine: "Dr. Hingorani will be a valuable addition to our team as an ally in our fight against pancreatic cancer, bringing new discoveries, more treatment options, and advancing our comprehensive approach to tackling this disease. Our ability to recruit him demonstrates the progress the cancer team has made in elevating our reputation for exceptional care at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center." 

About the Nancy Armitage Presidential Chair: 

Nancy Armitage earned a nursing degree and worked at University of Nebraska Hospital, where she helped open the first intensive care unit for surgical patients on 6 West.   

She and her husband, noted lymphoma physician-scientist James Armitage, MD, grew up in Kearney, Neb., where they first met in nursery school as young toddlers and went to Kearney High School together. Nancy went on to earn her nursing degree from Bryan Nursing School in Lincoln.  

As the career of her husband took off, Nancy Armitage took on the task of being a mother and grandmother to their four children and 11 grandchildren. She also became a key, behind-the-scenes figure in meeting with many of her husband’s patients, providing support to them and becoming friends to many.  Nancy Armitage died in 2017 of pancreas cancer.  

Family friends and former patients helped to establish the Nancy Armitage Pancreas Cancer Clinical Research Presidential Chair at UNMC, established to be the cornerstone in recruiting an internationally respected leader of this new center of excellence.  

 

We are Nebraska Medicine and UNMC. Our mission is to lead the world in transforming lives to create a healthy future for all individuals and communities through premier educational programs, innovative research and extraordinary patient care. 

  

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