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U-M researchers find family of ‘on switches’ that cause prostate cancer

Gene fusions trigger cancer growth, could impact treatment choices

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have discovered how genes turn on the switch that leads to prostate cancer.

The team discovered that pieces of two chromosomes can trade places with each other and cause two genes to fuse together. The fused genes then override the “off” switch that keeps cells from growing uncontrollably, causing prostate cancer to develop.

By testing these gene fusions in mice and in cell cultures, the researchers showed that the fusions are what cause prostate cancer to develop. But it’s not just one set of genes that fuse. The researchers found that any one of several in a family of genes can become scrambled and fuse. Results of the study appear in the Aug. 2 issue of Nature.

“Each of these switches, or gene fusions, represent different molecular subtypes. This tells us there’s not just one type of prostate cancer. It’s a more complex disease and potentially needs to be treated differently in each patient,” says lead study author Arul Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, a new U-M center whose goal is to translate research into real world practice.

The gene fusion research is the centerpiece project of the new center. In the current study, researchers found one of several abnormal gene fusions in the prostate cancer tissue samples they tested. In 2005, the researchers identified a prostate-specific gene called TMPRSS2, which fuses with either ERG or ETV1, two genes known to be involved in several types of cancer.

The Nature paper reports on five additional genes that fuse with ERG or ETV1 to cause prostate cancer. Gene fusions were involved in 60 percent to 70 percent of the prostate cancer cell lines the researchers looked at. The genes involved are all controlled by a different mechanism. For example, four of the genes are regulated by androgen, a male sex hormone known to fuel prostate cancer. Androgen deprivation is a common therapy for prostate cancer.

Knowing which gene fusion is involved in an individual patient’s tumor could impact treatment options. If an androgen-regulated gene is involved, androgen therapy would be appropriate. But if the gene fusion involves a gene that represses androgen, the anti-androgen therapy could encourage the cancer’s growth. This may also explain why androgen treatment is not effective for some prostate cancers.

“Typing someone’s prostate cancer by gene fusion can affect the treatment given. We would not want to give androgen to someone whose prostate cancer gene fusion is not regulated by androgen,” says Chinnaiyan, who is the S.P. Hicks Collegiate Professor of Pathology at the U-M Medical School.

Rearrangements in chromosomes and fused genes are known to play a role in blood cell cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and in Ewing’s sarcoma. A fused gene combination that plays a role in chronic myelogenous leukemia led researchers to develop the drug Gleevec, which has dramatically improved survival rates for that disease.

Chinnaiyan believes the prostate gene fusions will eventually lead to similar treatments for prostate cancer.

“More immediately, we hope to develop tests for diagnosis or prognosis. But long-term, we hope this will lead to better therapies to treat prostate cancer. The key challenge is to find a drug that would go after this gene fusion,” Chinnaiyan says.

The gene fusion technology has been licensed to San Diego-based Gen-Probe Inc., which is working on a screening tool to detect gene fusions in urine. The tool could one day supplement or replace the prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test currently used to screen for prostate cancer.

The idea of translating laboratory research findings into a test or treatment that will impact patients is central to the new Michigan Center for Translational Pathology. The center brings together experts in genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics to look at common patterns and potential targets in cancer and other diseases. This is the first center of its kind in the nation in that it is associated with one of 39 National Cancer Institute-designated “comprehensive” cancer centers, a premier medical school and a large health system with both clinicians and patients.

The center’s goal is to study the genes, proteins and other markers on cells to develop new diagnostic tests or screening tools as well as targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases, with the key being to translate these laboratory discoveries into clinical applications.

Chinnaiyan and his team have received numerous awards and honors, including the American Association for Cancer Research Team Science Award for their previously published work on gene fusions, and the Specialized Program of Research Excellence Outstanding Investigator award. The new Center for Translational Pathology supported in part by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which has offered to match up to $1 million dollars in donations to support work related to developing therapies against prostate cancer gene fusions at the university.

“Mapping of the human genome was only the beginning. Equipped with the comprehensive analysis of the human genome, we can now systematically examine the blueprint of disease at the molecular level. This essential knowledge may lead to better diagnostic tests and promising new treatments for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other illnesses,” Chinnaiyan says.

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For information about the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology, go to http://www.med.umich.edu/mctp.

About 218,890 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, and 27,050 will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. The gene fusion work is not currently available for treatment or diagnosis, and no clinical trials are currently recruiting. For information about prostate cancer and currently available treatments, go to http://www.mcancer.org or call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine at 800-865-1125.

In addition to Chinnaiyan, U-M study authors were Scott Tomlins; Saravana Dhanasekaran, Ph.D.; Bharathi Laxman; Qi Cao; Beth Helgeson; Xuhong Cao; David Morris, M.D.; Anjana Menon; Xiaojun Jing; Bo Han; James Montie, M.D.; Kenneth Pienta, M.D.; Diane Roulston; Rajal Shah, M.D.; Sooryanarayana Varambally, Ph.D.; and Rohit Mehra, M.D. Mark Rubin, M.D., from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School is also a study author.

Funding for the study came from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the Early Detection Research Network, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Gen-Probe Inc.

The University of Michigan has filed for a patent on the detection of gene fusions in prostate cancer, on which Tomlins, Mehra, Rubin and Chinnaiyan are co-inventors. The diagnostic field of use has been licensed to Gen-Probe Inc. Chinnaiyan also has a sponsored research agreement with Gen-Probe; however, GenProbe has had no role in the design or experimentation of this study, nor has it participated in the writing of the manuscript.

Reference: Nature, Vol. 448, No. 7153, Aug. 2, 2007

Contact: Nicole Fawcett
nfawcett@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System

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August 1, 2007 Posted by | acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Alberta, Baltimore, Barcelona, Bethesda, Calgary, Canada, Cancer, Cancer Biology, Cancer Biology and Therapy, Chemotherapy, Childhood Lukemia, France, Genes, Genetic, Genetic Link, Genetics, Genome, Genomic, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Health Canada, Human Genome, Irvine, Italy, Japan, journal Nature Genetics, Leukemia, Lung Cancer, Medical Journals, Nature Genetics, Newfoundland, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Nova Scotia, Oncology, Osaka, Ottawa, Prince Edward Island, Public Health, Quebec, Research, RSS, RSS Feed, Slovakia, Spain, Toronto, UK, University of Michigan, US, Virginia, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World News | 3 Comments

New research provides hope for childhood cancer sufferers

Dr Richard Lock, Head of the Leukaemia Biology Program at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research, Sydney, along with collaborators from the Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and University of Southern California, USA, recently published their findings in the prestigious scientific journal Blood.

ALL is the most common form of childhood cancer. Over the years, improvements in primary therapy have increased the cure rate to approximately 80 percent. However, for the 20 percent of patients who relapse, the majority will die.

“When used in combination with common drugs administered in ALL therapy, ABT-737 has the ability to enhance the combined toxicity of these drugs against the leukaemia cells with minimal effects on the normal cells of the body,” said Dr Lock.

Resistance to common therapeutic drugs is associated with poor long-term outcomes in leukaemia patients. In the study, the effects of ABT-737 in combination with three common chemotherapeutic agents: L-Asparaginase, vincristine and dexamethasone, were tested on a number of ALL cell lines under conditions which were considered clinically relevant for the disease.

ABT-737, developed by Abbott Laboratories, acts by inhibiting the Bcl-2 family of proteins. These proteins are expressed in ALL and inhibit the mechanisms responsible for destroying leukaemia cells. High levels of expression of Bcl-2 is linked with chemoresistance in a variety of cancers.

“There is a critical need for new drugs with novel mechanisms of action that might improve the outcome for relapsed ALL patients,” said Dr Lock.

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The manuscript is available online at http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/papbyrecent.dtl Children’s Cancer Institute Australia for Medical Research is associated with the University of NSW and Sydney Children’s Hospital.

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July 20, 2007 Posted by | acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Canada, Cancer, Cancer Biology, Cancer Biology and Therapy, Chemotherapy, Childhood Lukemia, Children’s Cancer Institute Australia, Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, Germany, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Italy, News Jerusalem, News Switzerland, News UK, News US, News USA, Oncology, Ottawa, Quebec, RSS, RSS Feed, Sydney Children’s Hospital, Toronto, University New South Wales, USC, Washington DC, Washington DC City Feed, World Health Organisation, World News | Leave a comment

Loss of cell’s ‘antenna’ linked to cancer’s development

Contact: Karen Mallet
Karen.Mallet@fccc.edu
215-728-2700
Fox Chase Cancer Center

Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers described dismantling proteins in journal Cell

Submarines have periscopes. Insects have antennae. And increasingly, biologists are finding that most normal vertebrate cells have cilia, small hair-like structures that protrude like antennae into the surrounding environment to detect signals that control cell growth. In a new study published in the June 29 issue of Cell, Fox Chase Cancer Center researchers describe the strong link between ciliary signaling and cancer and identify the rogue engineers responsible for dismantling the cell’s antenna.

Cilia-based sensing has important roles in sight, smell and motion detection and in helping an embryo develop into a normal baby. Defects in cilia can produce a range of disorders, including kidney cysts, infertility, respiratory problems, reversal of organs (for example, heart on the right) and a predisposition to obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. In each case, cells fail to appropriately detect growth-controlling signals and develop abnormally. Now, researchers are adding cancer to this list.

“Many cancers arise from defects in cellular signaling systems, and we think we have just identified a really exciting signaling connection,” Fox Chase Cancer Center molecular biologist Erica A. Golemis, Ph.D., points out. In the new study, Golemis and her Fox Chase colleagues found that two proteins with important roles in cancer progression and metastasis, HEF1 and Aurora A, have an unexpected role in controlling the temporary disappearance of cilia during normal cell division, by turning on a third protein, HDAC6. This action causes the “antenna” to be dismantled in an untimely way.

Why cilia come and go on normal cells is not entirely understood, but scientists increasingly suspect that it may play a role in timing the cell division process. Commonly, cancer cells have entirely lost their cilia, and this absence may help explain why tumors fail to respond properly to environmental cues that cause normal cells to stop growing. Hence, the discovery that too much HEF1 and Aurora A cause cilia to disassemble provides important hints into what may be happening in cancers.

Defects in cilia have already been identified in one disease that represents a significant public health burden. Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, arises from genetic mutations that cause flawed kidney-cell ciliary signaling. PKD is the most common serious hereditary disease, affecting more than 600,000 Americans and 12.5 million people worldwide.

In this incurable syndrome, patients develop numerous, fluid-filled cysts on the kidneys. For many patients, chronic pain is a common problem. PKD leads to kidney failure in about half of cases, requiring kidney dialysis or a kidney transplant.

The proteins involved in dismantling the cilia are no strangers to Golemis and her team. Golemis has been studying HEF1 for over a decade, since she first identified the gene. She first discovered that HEF1 has a role in controlling normal cell movement and tumor cell invasion. Golemis’ laboratory has also shown that Aurora A and HEF1 interact to initiate mitosis (chromosome separation) during cell division.

Suggestively, many cancers produce too much of the Aurora A protein, including breast and colorectal cancers and leukemia. In 2006, excessive production of HEF1 (also known as NEDD9) was found to drive metastasis in over a third of human melanomas, while HEF1 signaling also contributes to the aggressiveness of some brain cancers (glioblastomas).

“Now there’s a new activity for these proteins at cilia,” said co-author Elizabeth P. Henske, M.D., a medical oncologist and genetics researcher who studies the genetic basis of kidney tumors. This complex HEF1 and Aurora A function may mean the increased levels of these proteins in cancer affect cellular response to multiple signaling pathways, rather like a chain reaction highway accident.

Clinical Application

The research has significant implications for the understanding and treatment of cancer. The experiments leading to the new paper showed that “small-molecule inhibitors of Aurora A and HDAC6 selectively stabilize cilia,” the authors concluded, “suggesting a novel mode of action for these clinical agents.” Clinical trials of such inhibitors have already begun, so learning more about the mechanisms of their targets is important in understanding how these agents work and who might benefit from them.

“It is also tantalizing to consider that closer connections exist between dysplastic disorders leading to cysts and cancer than have previously been appreciated,” the authors wrote. “Overall, deregulated Aurora A/HEF1/HDAC6 signaling may have broad implications for studies of human development and disease.”

The authors are now investigating possible roles for HEF1 and Aurora A in PKD. They are intrigued by the fact that a study published last year showed that important gene, PKHD1, commonly mutated in PKD has also been found as a target of mutation in colorectal cancer.

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In addition to Golemis and Henske, co-authors include Elena N. Pugacheva, Ph.D., Tiffiney Hartman, Ph.D., and Sandra A. Jablonski, Ph.D., all of Fox Chase Cancer Center. Grants from the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, Pennsylvania Tobacco Settlement Funds and the Susan B. Komen Foundation supported this research, along with the Cancer Center support grant from NIH and an appropriation from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Fox Chase Cancer Center was founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as the nation’s first cancer hospital. In 1974, Fox Chase became one of the first institutions designated as a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center. Fox Chase conducts basic, clinical, population and translational research; programs of cancer prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center’s web site at http://www.fccc.edu or call 1-888-FOX CHASE.

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June 29, 2007 Posted by | Alberta, Baltimore, Calgary, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Clinical Trials, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Global, Global Health Vision, Global News, Leukemia, Medical Journals, News, News Australia, News Canada, News Israel, News Jerusalem, News UK, News US, Osaka, Research, Spain, Virginia, WASHINGTON, Washington DC, World News | 1 Comment

Inherited genes linked to toxicity of leukemia therapy

Contact: Summer Freeman
summer.freeman@stjude.org
901-495-3061
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

St. Jude researchers discover that variations in genes that affect the behavior of leukemia chemotherapy drugs in the body are linked to drug toxicity, a finding that will likely help clinicians predict how patients will respond to specific agents
Investigators at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have discovered inherited variations in certain genes that make children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) susceptible to the toxic side effects caused by chemotherapy medications. The researchers showed that these variations, called polymorphisms, occur in specific genes known to influence pharmacodynamics (how drugs work in the body and how much drug is needed to have its intended effect).

The findings, made during a study of 240 children, are important because these side effects in ALL can be life-threatening and interrupt delivery of treatment, increasing the risk of relapse. The new insights gained in this study could help individualize ALL chemotherapy according to a patient’s inherited tendencies to develop toxic reactions to specific drugs.

“Such individualized therapy would eliminate the time-consuming trial-and-error approach to finding the right dose for a patient,” said Mary Relling, Pharm.D., chair of the Pharmaceutical Sciences department at St. Jude. “When the results of our findings are translated into routine clinical care, we should see less toxicity among children being treated for ALL.” Relling is senior author of a report of this work that appears in the May 15 issue of “Blood.”

The St. Jude team extracted DNA from healthy white blood cells of patients and looked for 16 polymorphisms previously known to be present in genes linked to drug pharmacodynamics. Using a variety of statistical analyses, the investigators identified links between specific polymorphisms and gastrointestinal, infectious, hepatic (liver), and neurologic toxicities during each phase of treatment. The three treatment phases were induction, the initial phase designed to cause remission of the cancer; consolidation, the follow-up after induction; and consolidation, the final phase to ensure comprehensive elimination of cancer cells.

The study showed that some of the 16 genetic polymorphisms are linked to toxic side effects during more than one treatment phase; and some caused more than one type of toxicity. Certain polymorphisms were linked to the pharmacokinetics of specific drugs— how drugs are absorbed by the body, distributed, chemically modified or broken down and eliminated. Variations in pharmacokinetics can alter the levels of drugs in the body, leading to ineffective or toxic levels in individual patients.

For example, during the induction phase, when a variety of different types of chemotherapy drugs are used, polymorphisms in the two genes that were part of a biochemical pathway that breaks down chemotherapy drugs were linked to gastrointestinal toxicity and infection, respectively. In the consolidation phase, when drugs called antifolates were the main treatment, a folate was linked to gastrointestinal toxicity, as it was during the continuation phase. And in all three phases, one polymorphism was linked to hyperbilirubinemia, or jaundice, partly caused by the drug methotrexate.

“Scientists at St. Jude and elsewhere have dramatically improved survival rates from childhood leukemia, but it’s still challenging to find the right dose for each patient,” said Rochelle Long, Ph.D., director of the National Institutes of Health Pharmacogenetics Research Network. “By finding specific genetic variations linked to how individual patients respond to therapy, this work will make medicines safer and more effective for everyone.”

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Other authors of this work include Shinji Kishi, Cheng Cheng, Deborah French, Deqing Pei, Nobuko Hijiya, Ching-Hon Pui and William Evans (St. Jude); Soma Das and Edwin Cook (University of Chicago); Carmelo Rizzari (University of Milan, Italy), Gary Rosner (M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston) and Tony Frudakis (DNAPrint Genomics, Sarasota, Fla.).

This work was supported in part by the National Cancer Institute; the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences Pharmacogenetics Research Network and Database; a Center of Excellence grant from the State of Tennessee and ALSAC.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. No family ever pays for treatments not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization. For more information, please visit http://www.stjude.org.

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May 11, 2007 Posted by | acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Chemotherapy, Genes, Leukemia, National Cancer Institute, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital | Leave a comment