A partnership between Genesis Care and Lee Health is bringing a research hub for pancreatic cancer to Southwest Florida.

The Florida Center for Pancreas Diseases is not a destination, it’s a collaboration.

The binding thread is the medical professionals using various locations to best diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Venkata Parsa is one of more than 20 specialists on the team.

“We have been basically working together, sharing patients, talking about them, we talk almost, if not on a daily basis, at least three to four times a week about mutual patients,” Parsa said.

Each case is evaluated by a team with doctors working together on treatment plans, using proven methods as well as being a research institute. The program earned the Center of Excellent Distinction this fall. It’s one of only 62 in the country.

“This Center of Excellence moniker, it really attracts some novel therapies to the area,” said Dr. Mark Bloomston, a surgical oncologist.

Bloomston was part of a Phase 1 Trial looking at a virus that targets pancreatic cells. The virus can be injected into a tumor where it will target cancer cells.

“And then we can treat the virus and kill the virus, thus, breaking open a cancer cell, spilling out all its proteins, or its antigens, which makes it different from the surrounding cells, which then will attract the natural immune system to go find similar cells,” Bloomston said.

The virus is not a cure, but it makes the cancer easier to treat with surgery, chemo or radiation.

“We now are going to be getting the latest greatest radiation technology … where we can now give very high doses of radiation without the collateral damage that we’ve always had,” Bloomston said. “The pancreas is notoriously resistant to radiation. So you’ve got to be able to give high enough doses, but it’s surrounded by really important organ systems. So to be able to be precise with that radiation is of the utmost importance.”

In Southwest Florida, several studies are underway as the team seeks more ways to help patients survive.

“The more we treat in a specialized center, the more experience we get, the more clinical trials we can open,” said Parsa, a hematologist and oncologist.