Prostate cancer is the number one cancer affecting American men and it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men (behind lung cancer).
- An estimated 191,930 new prostate cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020, with 33,330 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis.
- About 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime.
- The average age at the time of diagnosis is 66, with about 60% of cases occurring in men aged 65 or older.
- Although men under the age of 40 can be diagnosed with prostate cancer, it is considered rare.
- There are more than 3.1 million men in the U.S. who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and are still alive today.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2020 and the Society’s website (2020)
Prostate Cancer Research
In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack prostate cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.
The best chance for a cure for many cancers is complete and successful surgery. Dr. James Basilion has developed a “smart” probe that when topically applied to the cancer during surgery, lights up only cancer cells, greatly improving the surgeon’s ability to detect tumor margins in prostate, breast, colon and lung cancer. Usually, an assessment of margins is done after the surgical procedure and patients return home. The smart probe will fulfill the unmet clinical need to reduce repeat surgeries at a later time for removal of remaining cancer tissue. Use of the probe may reduce the chance of cancer spreading, and can increase the rate of a surgical cure. With support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, the probe is being optimized towards a Phase I clinical trial initially for lumpectomies to further enhance cure rates for patients with early stage breast cancer. Success with this trial will facilitate clinical use of this “smart” for patients with prostate and other cancers.
Cancer that spreads from the primary tumor (metastasis) is the major reason that cancer patients lose their battle. Dr. Danny Welch discovered that mitochondria – a specialized cell part that generates energy for our bodies – may determine why cancer metastases develop in some patients, but not in others. Differences in tumor formation, metastasis location and responses to therapy could be from our mitochondrial DNA. With continued success, this research may suggest that a simple blood test can help guide doctors in treating those patients who are susceptible to metastasis and may need more aggressive treatment.
In another discovery research program, Dr. Welch’s team has identified eight genes that get turned off when cancer cells become metastatic cells – known as ‘metastasis suppressor genes’. KISS1 gene was originally discovered in models of melanoma and his team determined that cells expressing KISS1 can complete all of the early steps of the metastatic process but do not form a new metastatic site. His team has shown the same results in prostate cancer models. Research by the Welch team can lead to unique anti-metastasis therapeutics that are similar to the KISS1 protein and could arrest the formation of metastatic sites in prostate and other types of cancer.
Dr. Paul Fisher is developing gene therapies with IL/24, an immune modulator gene he discovered. The IL/24 protein detects primary and spreading tumor cells throughout the body and causes them to commit ‘cell suicide’ but is non-toxic to healthy cells. IL/24 also activates the immune system, inhibits new blood vessel formation to starve tumors of vital blood and nutrients, and sensitizes tumor cells to radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Dr. Fisher is developing IL/24 gene therapy that also includes a gene that fluoresces (lights up) when IL/24 finds and destroys tumor cells for a detection- and treatment-monitoring approach (known as theranostic). Another therapy combines IL/24 with a patient’s own immune T cells (adoptive cell therapy) to supercharge the T cells to fight cancer. These gene therapies are being developed for prostate, breast, lung, colon, brain and other cancers.
Together, Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee have focused lL/24 research for a new treatment for the aggressive brain cancer, GBM. With support from the NFCR AIM HI Translational Research Initiative, IL/24 gene therapy will advance soon to a Phase I clinical trial to provide GBM patients hope for a new effective treatment. This treatment could one day benefit prostate cancer patients, too.
Dr. Fisher also discovered MDA-9/ Syntenin, a gene that promotes the deadly spread (metastasis) of many cancers. He and Dr. Web Cavenee have discovered an innovative drug called PDZ1i that blocks the gene’s signals for metastasis. PDZ1i may be effective in treating numerous metastatic cancers including prostate cancer. Support from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative is helping the scientists translate and advance their research on PDZ1i to clinical trials so patients with different types of advanced cancer can benefit from this new treatment.