Though beginning in the prostate, the cancer that can kill is one that progresses in severity and ultimately spreads, typically to bone. Learning the mechanisms for disease progression is key to developing new effective therapies for patients who need systemic treatments. IPCR investigators are leading the world in developing the resources and conducting the investigative studies in many areas of cancer progression.
Developing the resources
The IPCR team is one of a few in the world conducting “rapid autopsies” on deceased prostate cancer patients. This procedure, carried out in ways similar to cadaveric transplant organ acquisition, allows the harvesting and dissemination of tissue otherwise unavailable to researchers, especially metastases to the bone.
These biospecimens have helped investigators here and around the world learn more about the molecular profiles of those cancers that kill. They also have collected one of the world’s largest blood and tissue banks for prostate cancer, which is essential for developing and stratifying prostate cancers into distinct categories amenable to specific therapies. The impact these resources have had on the prostate cancer research community worldwide cannot be overstated.
Developing animal models for prostate cancer is key to conducting important laboratory studies on cancer progression and treatment. A diverse team of IPCR scientists is developing and using highly specialized genetically engineered mouse models to understand the molecular mechanisms that cause prostate cancer to develop and progress.
Another team of IPCR researchers has developed more than 25 different human prostate cancer lines that grow in specialized immune suppressed mice. This resource, which is unsurpassed in the world, has allowed IPCR researchers (and many others around the globe) to conduct studies of cancer progression, and to critically test new therapies prior to their introduction in patients.
Circulating cancer cells
To metastasize and kill, the cancer cells must escape the prostate and travel elsewhere, usually to bone. IPCR researchers have improved methods for capturing prostate cancer cells in the blood and bone marrow. Studies of these cells have identified genetic abnormalities that may indicate how prostate cancer cells metastasize to the bone. Further analysis of these cells could provide opportunities for targeting and preventing bone metastasis.
Studies on bone
Prostate cancer spreads and grows primarily in bone. IPCR teams are world leaders in understanding the relationship between bone metabolism and prostate cancer growth.
Reducing blood levels of testosterone and other androgens that come from the testis can suppress tumor growth, but only temporarily after which it starts to grow again. Using rapid autopsy tissue and animal models, IPCR researchers have found that one reason this happens is because the cancer cells gradually develop the capacity to produce their own androgens. This discovery will allow the development of a whole new group of anti-hormone drugs that can better treat advanced prostate cancer.
Another hormone relevant to prostate cancer is insulin-like growth factor, or IGF. IPCR researchers have helped elucidate how this hormone and its close relatives help prostate cancer grow, and new therapies based on this understanding have shown effectiveness in animals. IPCR physicians were the first to develop in-man studies targeting this IGF pathway.