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OHSU center for pancreatic care receives $10 million gift to ‘save lives of pancreatic cancer patients and help their families’

Funding will support therapeutic advances, increase services for high-risk patients, fuel expansion in early cancer detection
A cancer doctor in protective medical mask looks at an X-ray.
A wide variety of pancreatic cancer medical services and research will be funded through a $10 million gift from Norman and Linda Brenden to the OHSU Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care. (Getty Images)

A $10 million gift from Norman and Linda Brenden to the OHSU Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care will bolster its efforts to help find better treatment strategies for patients with pancreatic disease. The center is a patient-centric research hub focused on: early detection of pancreatic cancer, advanced therapy and quality of life.

According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer is estimated to be the third leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. in 2022 and to become the second leading cause of cancer death by 2030. Compared with other cancers, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer — meaning the percentage of all patients who live five years after diagnosis — is very low, at an average of 11%.

Brett Sheppard, M.D. (OHSU) A person with no hair, in a white coat and glasses, smiling.
Brett Sheppard, M.D. (OHSU)

“Over 80% of patients with pancreatic cancer have the disease detected too late to even have a chance at curative multidisciplinary therapy,” says Brett Sheppard, M.D., co-director of the Brenden-Colson Center and a professor and vice chair of clinical operations and quality for the OHSU Department of Surgery, who specializes in treating patients with pancreatic cancer. “Our center is deep in research protocols to develop new blood and saliva-based biomarkers to help detect pancreatic cancer earlier.”

Sheppard, the William E. Colson Chair for Pancreatic Disease Research, says the gift will allow the Brenden-Colson Center to continue to leverage its research expertise and closely collaborate with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research (CEDAR) Center, as well as investigators around the world focused on finding pancreatic cancer earlier.

“This transformational gift will expand our early detection efforts to include physician and patient education, allow us to further develop our clinic for high-risk patients, and increase our translational research to bring relief to patients who are suffering today,” he said.

Philanthropic impact on patients’ lives

Rosie Sears, Ph.D. (OHSU) A person with medium blond hair, smiling.
Rosie Sears, Ph.D. (OHSU)

Rosie Sears, Ph.D., is co-director of the Brenden-Colson Center, a professor of molecular and medical genetics in the OHSU School of Medicine and the Krista L. Lake Chair in Cancer Research.

She says a gift of this magnitude demonstrates “the trust and generosity of an amazing philanthropist, whose gift will help transform how we care for patients at risk for developing pancreas disease and those suffering today with the devastation of pancreatic illness and cancer.

“This gift will propel us toward really making an impact on patients’ lives, from survival to improving patient treatments, through managing wellness and resiliency,” she continues. “It allows us to be creative and move forward with new ideas and programs in a time when that’s very difficult to do through traditional grant funding mechanisms.”

One aspect of creativity will involve the freedom to recruit more people to contribute to the center, ranging from technical staff and junior faculty to senior scientists.

“For each of our core goals, we need more hands,” Sears says. “We need to have more people to think about the gold mine of research data we have and will create, for example, and analyze it. We need to have more people recruiting patients we’ve identified as high-risk into surveillance programs. This funding will be a catalyst to expand our team of people dedicated toward reducing the number and advancing the care of patients suffering from pancreatic cancer.”

Helping patients across the spectrum

The Brenden-Colson Center is home to one of the most robust and comprehensive multidisciplinary pancreatic cancer groups in the Pacific Northwest. In concert with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, the center’s clinicians care for more than 260 patients with pancreatic cancer per year and perform more than 120 pancreatic cancer surgeries annually.

Patients being treated for pancreatic cancer at OHSU have their tumors analyzed routinely at weekly multidisciplinary clinical tumor board meetings chaired by Sheppard. The SMMART, Serial Measurements of Molecular and Architectural Responses to Therapy, clinical trial program is another option for some patients with pancreatic cancer; patients who participate in the clinical trial program have access to targeted therapy that includes in-depth, iterative analyses of their tumor.  

Pancreatic Cancer High Risk Clinic is offered for patients and/or family members of patients who may be at increased risk of pancreatic cancer. Patients are followed long-term and may elect to participate in early detection trials. People identified as potentially having a high risk for pancreatic cancer include those with family histories of the disease or known mutations that predispose them to developing it.

The center also leads a multidisciplinary Total Pancreatectomy and Islet Autologous Transplantation, TPIAT, program in collaboration with the OHSU Digestive Health Center and the Department of Surgery. This procedure has been shown to eliminate pain in up to 80% of chronic pancreatitis sufferers and allows patients to remain insulin-independent, despite the removal of their pancreas. There are only a handful of hospitals throughout the country that offer this procedure, and the program at OHSU is one of only three located west of the Mississippi River.

‘People all over Oregon and beyond are going to be saved because of your generosity’

A person atop Mt. Kilimanjaro in a fullbody blue snow suit.
Brett Sheppard, M.D., summitted Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2015 with fellow OHSU oncologist Charles Blanke, M.D., to raise money for cancer research. The doctors braved extreme weather conditions on their climb to the top, where Sheppard raised a purple flag in honor of pancreatic cancer awareness. (Courtesy of Brett Sheppard)

In 2013, the Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care was formed to focus on cutting-edge research aimed at new detection and treatment methods for lethal pancreatic cancer, while transforming the quality of life for survivors of all pancreatic diseases. This was made possible by a $25 million gift through a philanthropic partnership between the Brenden family and the Colson family. The Colson Family Foundation administers charitable giving programs funded through the estate of William Colson, who died of cancer in 2007. Norman Brenden, who was Bill Colson’s long-time friend and business partner, is himself a survivor of a serious episode of pancreatitis. 

Since 2013, the Brendens have continued to support the Brenden-Colson Center for Pancreatic Care with gifts of $5 million and $15 million. The $10 million gift, announced today, is a sign of the Brendens’ continued “trust and appreciation” for the center.

While Sheppard and Sears say it’s “nearly impossible” to fully thank someone for a gift of this significance, they do want the Brendens to know that “people all over Oregon and beyond are going to be saved because of your generosity.”

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