NCCU scientist’s pancreatic cancer research inspires colleague who lost dad to disease

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – It’s a diagnosis no one ever wants to hear. Pancreatic cancer kills more than 90 percent of people diagnosed, and does so within five years.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. A North Carolina Central University professor we spoke with is working to find new treatments for the deadly disease.

Antonio Baines is a cancer pharmacologist working in NCCU’s Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. He’s studying pancreatic cancer, which took the life of his colleague’s father.

Darlene Laws is an administrative support specialist for the department. About 10 years ago, Laws’ father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Laws described her father as an entrepreneur and “self-taught man.” He pushed through just about any pain, but when his back hurt so badly it sent him to the doctor, the diagnosis was devastating.

Laws hoped her father could beat the disease, but sadly, that is rarely the reality for people with pancreatic cancer.

“It has a five-year survival rate of 9 percent, so it’s one of the lowest of all the cancers,” Baines said. He is working to change that by researching new ways to fight pancreatic cancer. He said the cancer is so deadly, in part, because there is no test for it.

“Usually, it’s found by accident, and when found by accident, it usually has metastasized to other parts of your body,” he said.

That means most pancreatic cancer patients aren’t eligible for surgery. Chemotherapy often doesn’t work for long. Baines’ goal is to find ways to kill pancreatic cancer cells, or at least stop them from growing.

“I work with other collaborators at other universities, as well as pharmaceutical companies to test different drugs and different drug combinations,” Baines said. “As a cancer researcher, you always have to be optimistic, but there’s definitely going to be better treatments in the future.”

“I’m very hopeful,” Laws added. She said she’s thankful for Baines and his work. Although her father died nine months after his diagnosis, she said he had hope, too.

“He wanted a cure for cancer — all cancer, but especially this kind — to be found,” she said.

Baines said certain ethnic groups, including African-Americans, are at a higher risk for pancreatic cancer. He also said if it’s caught early, there is a better prognosis, so if you notice any unusual symptoms including abdominal or back pain, see your doctor.

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