MPTC Patient Donates to Support Ground-Breaking Pancreatic Cancer Research

January 10, 2020

January 10th, 2019

Left: Maynita S. Gerakitis, mother of George and Charles Gerakitis
Right: George Gerakitis and Dr. Zeljko Vujaskovic at the “Ring in Hope” wall at MPTC.

George Gerakitis, who was treated at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC) in 2016, looks back on his mother fondly. “She was just a wonderful person, just a very caring individual,” he recalls.

She also built a distinguished career, serving as the women’s editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Unfortunately, George’s mother passed away from pancreatic cancer in June 1988, just nine months after being diagnosed.

Almost thirty years later, George faced his own battle with cancer, in his case, prostate. He learned about proton therapy from a book by a cancer survivor who had undergone proton treatment. In 2016, George received proton therapy under the care of Zeljko Vujaskovic, MD, PhD, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Director of the Division of Translational Radiation Sciences in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UM SOM).

The treatment was successful and George remains cancer-free to this day. “It was just remarkable,” recalls George of his experience being treated at MPTC. “Every single person at the center was of the highest character, and they were the most professional people I’ve ever met.”

George’s positive experience sparked a desire to give back, and he made a donation to support research led by Dr. Vujaskovic in 2017.

However, George would soon be compelled to give again. He learned more about the groundbreaking research that Dr. Vujaskovic is doing involving a treatment that has the potential to increase survival rates for those suffering from pancreatic cancer, like his mother had so many years ago.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the types of cancer that is extremely hard to treat,” explains Dr. Vujaskovic, noting the relative ineffectiveness of immunotherapy and radiation in increasing survival rates to date.

Dr. Vujaskovic’s research involves the use of hyperthermia to treat pancreatic cancer in conjunction with those existing treatment methods.

Hyperthermia involves heating the tumor tissue to moderate temperatures (between 104-110 degrees Fahrenheit). This improves the tumor blood supply, bringing more oxygen into the tumor, which makes cancer cells more responsive to radiation therapy.

MPTC, which is the only medical facility in the world to offer hyperthermia and proton therapy under one roof, already treats patients concurrently with the two technologies for other cancers.

Intrigued by the research, George traveled from his home in Atlanta to tour Dr. Vujaskovic’s laboratory at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“I saw what they were doing in terms of pancreatic cancer research and I said, ‘You know, I need to make a contribution’,” recalls George. His brother, Charles also felt compelled to donate, noting that “the research interested me, since my mother had such a terrible reaction to chemotherapy.”

After the tour, George and Charles made a second donation in memory of their mother, Maynita S. Gerakitis.

Donations like those from the Gerakitis brothers and others fund research and have gone a long way in enabling Dr. Vujaskovic and his team to show the effectiveness of radiation therapy, hyperthermia, and immunotherapy in treating pancreatic cancer.

“What we have found in the lab, due to the generous donations from people like George and Charles, is that we can convert a pancreatic cancer tumor into a much more responsive type of tumor that reacts better to radiation when combined with hyperthermia and immunotherapy.”

Dr. Vujaskovic goes on to explain that donations enable the ability to “speed up the research and bring new treatments to clinic,” where clinical trials can begin with patients, which he estimates will begin in the next year.

Philanthropy makes it possible to advance critical cancer research like Dr. Vujaskovic’s. To make a donation or for more information, please contact Melissa Breslin, Senior Director of Medical Development, at [email protected] or at 410.328.8450.

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