UF Health MedMatters

UF Health Leads National Research Consortium with Multidisciplinary Focus

A consortium of U.S. academic medical centers is in its fifth year of active research, conducting studies on how chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and diabetes are linked. University of Florida Health is one of 10 participating centers and is focusing on these diseases in adults.

The Consortium for the Study of Chronic Pancreatitis, Diabetes and Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Centers, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, is exploring the relationship between the diseases, said Christopher Forsmark, M.D., chief of the UF College of Medicine’s division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition.

“Each of these diseases in itself is important, but the connections between them is what led to the formation of the consortium,” said Forsmark, also a member of the UF Health Cancer Center. “For instance, diabetes is a risk factor for both those diseases, and both those diseases can also cause diabetes.”

Forsmark, who focus on pancreatitis, and his fellow UF investigators, Steven Hughes, M.D., focusing on pancreatic cancer, and Kenneth Cusi, M.D., focusing on diabetes, are studying why diabetes occurs in patients with chronic pancreatitis. It is known that patients who get diabetes as a result of their chronic pancreatitis are more at risk for pancreatic cancer.

In addition, they are studying ways to detect pancreatic cancer at an earlier stage, using the presence of new onset diabetes as a marker of possible underlying pancreatic cancer. Earlier detection of this aggressive malignancy is necessary for reducing mortality.

“If we can figure out these connections, then maybe we can find some predictors for which patients with chronic pancreatitis are going to get diabetes, or which of them that have chronic pancreatitis and diabetes are going to get cancer,” Forsmark said.

The active research consortium is currently recruiting into three adult cohorts and has about 50 ongoing studies at institutions across the country, Forsmark said. Several publications and national presentations have come out of the consortium, with more to come in the following years.

“Diabetes is a risk factor of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic cancer causes diabetes, and chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer and diabetes,” he said. “It's a complicated thing to sort out the relationship between three diseases.”

Forsmark believes UF Health’s broad range of expertise makes the academic medical center suited for this consortium.

“The University of Florida has a very strong program in pancreatic diseases,” he said. “It ranges not only from the surgical side, for benign and malignant pancreatic disease, to the medical side, for various forms of pancreatitis and associated diabetes, but it also includes our Diabetes Institute and the Network for Pancreatic Organ Donors with Diabetes, which is based here and collects pancreatic specimens from patients who are organ donors.”

Other clinical centers include the Baylor College of Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Indiana University, Kaiser Foundation, Mayo Clinic, the Ohio State University, Stanford University, the University of Florida, the University of Iowa and the University of Pittsburgh. The consortium’s coordination and data management center is MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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University of Florida Health Shands Hospital has been recognized among the nation’s best hospitals in seven adult medical specialties. Overall, UF Health Shands Hospital was recognized as one of the best hospitals in Florida. In addition to being ranked among the nation’s top 50 hospitals in seven specialties, UF Health Shands Hospital also was listed as “high performing” in seven specialties, including abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, colon cancer surgery, COPD, heart failure, lung cancer surgery, neurology & neurosurgery and orthopaedics.