Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, collaborating with researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, have uncovered a distinct molecular subtype of prostate cancer, which is prevalent among 15% of men with the disease.
In the study, published online May 20 in the journal Nature Genetics, investigators describe how they discovered novel mutations in the SPOP (“S-pop”) gene in numerous patient tumors, saying this alteration is thus far unique to prostate cancer and represents a distinct molecular class that might assist in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Researchers suspect the mutations alter the way cells tag proteins for degradation, leading to an accumulation of dangerous molecules that drive the growth of cancer, perhaps from the beginning.
This type of mutation is unique to prostate cancer. By targeting the mutations in the SPOP gene, a new class of cancer diagnosis and treatment can be developed.
This finding adds to a string of discovery of other genes linked to prostate cancer over the years by this team of investigators, the totality of which is painting a comprehensive picture of how genetic alterations contribute to prostate cancer — the most common cancer in men aside from skin cancer, accounting for the second leading cause of cancer deaths.
Dr. Himisha Beltran of the Weill Cornell Prostate Cancer Program and Dr. Mark A. Rubin, Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, are leading researchers at Weill Cornell who, along with an international team of researchers, have discovered an Achilles’ heel in an aggressive type of prostate cancer — a vulnerability they say can be attacked by a targeted drug that is already in clinical trials to treat other types of cancers.
In the findings, published in Cancer Discovery, the researchers report that the investigational drug had a dramatic response in animal models of neuroendocrine prostate cancer, and so provides the first hope of an effective human therapy for this lethal cancer. Although neuroendocrine prostate cancer comprises only 2% of initial prostate cancer diagnoses, patients can progress from a more common prostate cancer to a neuroendocrine form as their cancer becomes more advanced.
Specifically, Drs. Beltran and Rubin have discovered that the aurora kinase inhibitor PHA-739358 works against human neuroendocrine prostate cells. To date, the more common adenocarcinoma prostate cancer is treated via androgen suppression therapy. This treatment is utilized well for the more common prostate cancer. But, it is speculated that as the androgen suppression therapy destroys the common cancer cells, neuroendocrine prostate cancer cells grow in their place. If ongoing research confirms this hypothesis, this new molecular pathway could offer hope for the treatment of neuroendocrine prostate cancer.