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Advance Toward Test for Aggressive Prostate Cancer
Date:2/14/2010

Scientists find gene that drives tumor spread, say it could be target for screening

SUNDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Harvard researchers report what they say is a major advance toward the long-sought goal of a genetic test that can distinguish between aggressive prostate cancers that require urgent treatment and slow-growing tumors that can safely be left alone.

Today, many men diagnosed with prostate cancer are treated with radiation or chemotherapy even though most of those cancers will grow so slowly that they are not dangerous. It is the cancers that metastasize -- spread outside the prostate gland -- that typically are life-threatening.

"For the first time, we showed in a mouse model that when you take a gene out, you get metastasis and when you put it back in you don't get metastasis," said study author Karen Cichowski, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of genetics at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "It looks like the entire pathway is driven by this one gene, the cascade that drives metastasis."

Studies of human prostate cancers have shown the same effect, she said: "We have looked at the genetic pathway in a large number of human tumors, and have found it to be deregulated in more advanced prostate cancers."

The finding could lead to better treatment of prostate cancer, because the molecule whose production is governed by the gene can be a target of drug therapy, Cichowski said.

The molecule, designated EZH2, is an enzyme, and "enzymes are always good potential therapeutic targets," she said. "Many companies are working to develop EZH2 inhibitors."

The Brigham and Women's program is one of a number being carried out in competitive fashion at several U.S. medical research centers. They are looking at a cluster of genes whose connection with prostate cancer was first described in 2002 by Jer-Tsong Hsieh, a professor of pathology and urology at the Uni
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