A comprehensive study of prostate cancer tissue done in the UK has revealed that a completely new gene network takes over driving the cancer in men who are castrate resistant. The research was published in Cancer Cell.

Researchers at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge studied tissue samples from men with prostate cancer. They found that a protein fuels advanced prostate cancer (castrate resistant) by switching on a different set of genes previously not linked with the disease. This research might provide new drug targets to treat the disease and new bio-markers that could be used to monitor progression of advanced prostate cancer.

Previous cell studies have shown that the androgen receptor attaches to and ‘switches on’ specific genes to drive cancer. This study shows that when androgens are absent from the bloodstream, or when men are on ADT, the androgen receptor continues to fuel the disease by switching on a completely different gene set. This includes genes associated with the production of glucose and fat.

Study author, Naomi Sharma, Urology Academic Registrar at Addenbrooke’s Hospital based at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, said: “This is the first comprehensive tissue study of its kind and shines a new light on the biology of prostate cancer.

“Our understanding so far comes from studies in cells grown in the laboratory. In this sophisticated study using samples directly from patients, we’ve uncovered a much more complex network of cell messages. These messages switch on a completely different set of genes that continue to drive the disease in men for whom standard hormone treatments have stopped working.

“These important findings might provide new targets for the development of new drugs to treat advanced stages of prostate cancer, and new ‘flags’ to help doctors track the progression of the disease in patients.”

This study is significant as it might change our understanding of how the most important androgen receptor actually works to drive castrate resistant prostate cancer.
Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK’s prostate cancer expert, said: “This fascinating research reframes our understanding of how the androgen receptor works – painting a very different picture of how it drives cancer.

Source: Cancer Research UK

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.