$6.4 million grant awarded to UAB to evaluate novel treatments of recurrent acute pancreatitis through clinical trial

As there is no current treatment for acute and recurrent acute pancreatitis, Dudeja hopes this grant will provide hope for those suffering with the disease.

Dudeja. 1Vikas Dudeja, M.D.
Photography: Lexi Coon
Acute pancreatitis can affect a patient’s quality of life because, for some, pancreatitis is not a one-time scenario. Instead they experience recurring episodes, and there is no indication as to when they will happen.

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to severe pain, fever, abdominal swelling and high heart rate. It is estimated by the National Pancreas Foundation that nearly 220,000 are diagnosed with acute pancreatitis each year in the nation.  

“Sometimes we can find out the cause of pancreatitis and can address the issue in hopes that the episodes will be eliminated,” said Vikas Dudeja, M.D., James P. Hayes Endowed Professor and director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Surgical Oncology. “Unfortunately for many patients, the cause of their pancreatitis cannot be found, and they continue to experience flare-ups that are severely painful. Furthermore, for some unfortunate patients, even after correcting their cause of the first episode of acute pancreatitis, like gall stones, the flare-ups of pancreatitis keep coming back.”

Dudeja, who is also a professor in the UAB Department of Surgery, says there is currently no treatment to cure acute pancreatitis, so many patients are prescribed opioids to treat the symptoms; but this can increase the risk of addiction. In addition, the more episodes of acute pancreatitis a patient has, the more their risk of developing chronic pancreatitis increases.  

Recently, Dudeja was awarded a $6.4 million grant from the United States Department of Defense to identify a possible treatment for acute pancreatitis. The grant will fund a clinical trial to study the effect of pirfenidone, a medication currently used for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, on patients with recurrent acute pancreatitis. Studies done in Dudeja’s laboratory demonstrate that the use of pirfenidone reduced the severity of episodes, prevented the disease and prevented the development of chronic pancreatitis in animal models of recurrent acute pancreatitis.

Dudeja, principal investigator, will conduct this trial through a multi-institutional collaboration, with Mayo Clinic in Rochester and Brigham and Women’s Hospital as additional sites.

“It is an honor to receive this grant, and it provides hope that we will be able to find a treatment to help those who suffer with pancreatitis,” Dudeja said. “I want to thank our research team and Santhi Swaroop Vege, M.D., from Mayo Rochester, our longtime collaborator. This feat would not have been possible without their efforts.”

Earlier this year, Dudeja was also awarded $2 million by the Department of Defense to identify how the hedgehog pathway affects the immune environment in chronic pancreatitis. Click here to read more.