Tuesday night is the major fundraiser for the UNMC Eppley Cancer Institute with the Ambassador of Hope Gala at Qwest Center Omaha. The featured speaker is former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Among the thousands of cancer patients who have received specialized care at UNMC is a former Omaha broadcaster Jim Fagin.
As he described it, Jim Fagin is back from the dead. He ended a long career in radio and TV (including a stint as a reporter at Channel 6 News) about five years ago to work for Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson.
Less than two years ago, Fagin experienced a much more dramatic life-changing development. “My surgeon told me, Jim, you might not make it.”
The somber diagnosis of pancreatic cancer came from Fagin's new doctor at the Nebraska Medical Center. After eight hours of surgery, six months of chemo and 13 months of care, Fagin was pronounced cancer-free in August.
"They've told me that one of their priorities is to find an early detection test for pancreatic cancer because that's where the problem is. If they can find that, they'll save a lot of needless deaths.”
One of the tools used in those efforts to beat cancer and save lives is a very expensive robotic screening apparatus used at the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center to measure the function of human genes and possible links to cancer and the findings have led to some surprising new avenues of study.
"We found some targets that we didn't expect at all,” said Dr. Rob Lewis of the Eppley Cancer Institute. “Our number one target is a gene that is supposed to be involved in the cognitive deficits of Down's syndrome. It has no relationship at all to cancer and yet we have molecular evidence that has already been published now that we've looked at this gene that makes sense, that this may be involved in regulating pathways to certain types of tumors.”
The time involved to produce an outcome of the study is incredibly fast. "There are a lot of genes though that we have no idea, number one about their name or the types of functions they may be involved in,” said Dave Kelly of the Eppley Cancer Institute.
“So this type of study is where we start building that information, in a larger general sense, and we hope that the type of experimentation that we provide here can be married to information that is provided from other research facilities across the country.”
From Fagin's viewpoint as a cancer survivor, he is grateful for the ongoing effort in cancer research at UNMC and other institutions across the country. Hs specific hope is for a marker that will give doctors an early detection of pancreatic cancer.
"I would love it if they would discover it here at UNMC, the very place that saved my life would save the lives of thousands of other people. I would love that."