Study narrows search for genes placing men at increased risk for prostate cancer


Research details results from large, family-based study

August 18, Phoenix, AZ--Scientists at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the National Institutes of Health, The University of Michigan and five other research institutes world-wide announced today the findings from the largest study of the genetics of prostate cancer undertaken to date. Results have zeroed in on three different regions of the genome containing genes that may make men more vulnerable to this common cancer. Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in US men. The findings appear in the August 18 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers are currently scouring those genome regions, culled from more than 400 cancer-prone families, to identify specifically which genes lead to increased prostate cancer susceptibility.

"This study will help us predict better who is at the highest risk for this disease," says the paper's lead author, Dr. Elizabeth Gillanders, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. "If we could identify men with susceptibility genes, we can target our surveillance to them and identify their cancers much earlier. Early-stage treatment is far more beneficial in prostate cancer," she says.

In addition, she noted, prostate cancers in men who possess susceptibility genes tend to be more aggressive--and more often fatal--than prostate cancers in men who are not genetically prone to the disease.

"This study focuses and intensifies the hunt for genes that increase a man's risk of prostate cancer," says the paper's senior author, Dr. Jeffrey M. Trent, Scientific Director of TGen in Phoenix, Arizona. "We needed this sort of massive study in order to have the power to target important genome regions."

"The difference between this paper and previous work on the genetics of prostate cancer is the number of families studied," says Dr. William B. Isaacs, of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, principal investigator for the project. "There has been much confusion and difficulty in trying to figure out where we should be looking for these genes." Today's paper reports on data from approximately 2,000 individuals from over 400 families.

"The large number of prostate cancer families utilized in this study allowed us to overcome the challenges we have faced in this field for the past few years," says Dr. Jianfeng Xu, one of the lead authors on the paper and a researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "This study shows that hereditary prostate cancer genes exist and demonstrates that by working together, teams of researchers are able to locate these genes. These results give us a renewed confidence in our search for prostate cancer genes."

"These are exciting times," says Dr. John Carpten, Senior Investigator and Director of TGen's Prostate Cancer Research Program. "Prostate cancer has turned out to be a formidable enemy to all men. We look forward to maturing this research in order to help discover new genetic diagnostic tools for prostate cancer susceptibility in hopes of one day winning the war against this awful disease."

The study was the result of an increasing trend in genomic research: an extensive international collaboration of scientists from multiple institutions. Large-scale collaborative studies like this are increasingly common in complex disorders that have a huge impact on public health, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and mental health disorders like autism. Complex disorders involve more than one gene--often many--and a host of environmental factors, which makes them particularly hard to investigate.

Dr. Richard N. Atkins, President & CEO of the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, noted: "We applaud public and private investments that lead to new discoveries to save lives. Sadly, prostate cancer remains the most common occurring malignancy in America - other than skin cancer, and we still know far too little about how to prevent it, detect it, and treat it."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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