Barbara Orelli: Pancreatic Cancer Researcher & Runner

Most Project Purple runners have something in common: a love for running and a desire to defeat pancreatic cancer. What makes Barbara Orelli unique is that she is actually researching ways to fight pancreatic cancer in a Columbia University Laboratory. When Barbara learned about the research that Project Purple is funding, she decided that she wanted to join the 2016 New York City Half-Marathon team.

Barbara Orelli
Barbara Orelli

Originally from Switzerland, Barbara spent most of her childhood in Italy. A week before returning to Switzerland to study at the university, her life was forever changed when her father was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She became interested in pursuing a career in cancer research as she watched her father engage in an 8-year battle for his life.

Barbara obtained her M.S. degree in Interdisciplinary Natural Sciences from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. When the professor Barbara worked for, Dr. Orlando Scharer, took a position at Stony Brook University in New York, Barbara and the rest of the research team followed him to the United States. She eventually obtained her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology from Stony Brook University in 2010.

Barbara originally researched DNA damage and how DNA damage is repaired in the body. However, she eventually decided that she wanted to work in a translational laboratory. She now works at Columbia University in New York City in the laboratory of Dr. Ken Olive ( ). She is currently testing different compounds of drugs that could be effective in treating pancreatic cancer in mice, and hopefully, some day in humans who have the BRCA mutation. Barbara explains, “We have a mouse hospital. We have mice that have tumors as a result of the BRCA genetic mutations. We give them the drugs and see how they respond to the medication. Once they start the treatments, we measure the volume of the tumor to see how it responds.” Barbara’s lab looks at how the drugs work on the tumors. If the drugs appear to work in mouse trials, they may eventually end up in a clinical trial.Barbara enjoys being connected to the pancreatic cancer community. The laboratory where Barbara works has a close relationship with a nearby pancreatic cancer center. Once per month, Barbara shares her research experiences with the patients at the pancreatic cancer center. The patients and their caregivers enjoy the opportunity to learn about what advances are being made in the realm of pancreatic cancer research. She has also volunteered for pancreatic cancer charities over the past three years. Barbara finds strength and inspiration from the survivors that she meets through her community outreach.

Barbara met Project Purple founder Dino Verrelli when he visited Dr. Ken Olive’s laboratory at Columbia University in 2015. It was then that Barbara became interested in running and raising money for Project Purple. “I love running and wanted to raise awareness for pancreatic cancer, so it is a perfect combination for me,” Barbara explains. “I told Dino right away that I am a runner and am interested in running for Project Purple.” Barbara went for a group run with Dino and other Project Purple runners in Central Park in New York City, and the two spent time discussing their mutual interest in pancreatic cancer research.

Barbara medal

Barbara is training to run the New York City Half-Marathon, a race that she knows and loves. Barbara started running when she moved to the United States ten years ago. A friend convinced her to put her name in for the New York City Marathon lottery and she was accepted into the race. She has now run three full marathons and several half-marathons. The busy mother of a toddler, Barbara says, “I really need to run. It is therapy for me. It is time for me to be alone and clear my mind.” Though she is not running as regularly as she did before having her daughter, she finds that having a jogging stroller helps her to get her runs in a couple of times per week.

Barbara is pleased to be running for the Project Purple team. “It is nice to have a charity that provides money directly to pancreatic cancer research labs. We need the research to find new therapies, especially for pancreatic cancer. We are so far behind other cancers. We need to continue to support the research and to push the politicians in Washington not to cut funding for research in pancreatic cancer.”

Barbara beach

Please support Barbara’s Project Purple fund raising campaign at the following link and help her as she works towards finding a cure for pancreatic cancer.

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