Jen Jen Yeh
Jen Jen Yeh, MD
Dr. Jen Jen Yeh’s research focuses include precision oncology, genomics and clinical trial recruitment & retention
Dr. Jen Jen Yeh is a professor of surgery and pharmacology, the vice chair for research in the Department of Surgery, and an Oliver Smithies Investigator at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the co-associate director of education and co-program leader of clinical research at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Yeh specializes in endocrine diseases and pancreatic cancer, with much of her research focusing on precision oncology and how patients with different tumor subtypes respond to different treatment options.
That research holds relevance in a clinical trial led by another member of the Seena Magowitz Foundation Advisory Board, Dr. Susan Tsai, M.D. The trial examines how each tumor subtype (classical and basal-like) responds to various forms of chemotherapy, helping determine which medicine is most effective at shrinking each type.
Dr. Yeh notes that, in the past, the chemotherapy medication gemcitabine was part of the standard of care for many people with pancreatic cancer despite it having only minor benefits. Now, there are two first-line therapies available to patients and additional targeted therapies that focus on specific genetic changes or mutations – and they’re improving patient outcomes and boosting prognoses.
“Survival rates have doubled in the past 15 years or so,” Dr. Yeh said. “Now, we’re looking at five-year survival rates at 12% after hovering around 5% for decades. We’re looking at lots of advances and more and more hope. Once advances start happening, there is a cascade effect with new research and innovation, helping to bring more and more research into the pancreatic cancer field.”
In addition to helping identify ways to increase long-term survival rates for people with pancreatic cancer, Dr. Yeh’s work focuses on figuring out how to enroll more members of under-represented minority groups into clinical trials. In 2022, she was the recipient with Dr. Ugwuji Maduekwe of the inaugural Lustgarten Equity, Accessibility & Diversity (LEAD) grant from the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, with the grant money helping fund the PROmoting Clinical TrIal EngageMent for Pancreatic Cancer App Study (PROCLAIM Study). The study seeks to recruit and retain more minorities in pancreatic cancer clinical trials by eliminating distrust, racial biases and other variables that have historically limited their enrollment.
Dr. Yeh is also part of another clinical trial set to start in early 2024. The new trial will be the first of its kind to enroll people with metastatic pancreatic cancer based on their specific tumor subtypes and seeks to help optimize and identify new treatment options based on those subtypes.
“Moving research forward can be slow and clunky, but advances are happening,” Dr. Yeh said. “It takes foundations like Seena Magowitz to really accelerate them.”
The Seena Magowitz Foundation’s Medical Advisory Board unites some of the nation’s and world’s elite experts in pancreatic cancer research, treatment, surgery and care, with Dr. Yeh joining Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., F.A.C.P., of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Dr. Douglas B. Evans, M.D., F.A.C.S., and Dr. Susan Tsai, M.D., M.H.S., F.A.C.S, both of the Medical College of Wisconsin, Dr. Erkut Borazanci, M.D., of the HonorHealth Research Institute, and Dr. Peter Hosein, M.D. of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
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