UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center (JCCC) is conducting productive research for many cancers, including prostate. On July 31, the center announced that the JCCC and the David Geffen School of Medicine department of urology have received renewal notification from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) site in prostate cancer under the leadership of principal investigator Dr. Robert Reiter, Bing professor of urologic research and JCCC member. This renewal marks the beginning of a third cycle of funding aimed at improving prevention, detection and treatment of a disease that will kill 30,000 American men this year. Estimates by the NCI are that over 238,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013.
The SPORE designation provides a five-year, $11.6 million grant to further expand UCLA’s state-of-the-art prostate cancer program, which includes researchers and clinicians from many disciplines across campus to research therapies for the disease. Dr. Mark S. Litwin, professor and chair of the department of urology, explained, “This renewal will robustly continue the outstanding programs we have developed over the last two cycles of the prostate cancer SPORE and give us the resources to bring investigators together for new innovative and multidisciplinary projects with the goal of improving the way we diagnose and treat prostate cancer.” “This third renewal of the UCLA Prostate SPORE is indicative of the world-class research we have on this campus” added Dr. James Economou, UCLA Vice Chancellor of Research and professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics; molecular and medical pharmacology; and surgical oncology. “The renewal of this SPORE grant is affirmation of the leadership role UCLA continues to play in groundbreaking research on prostate cancer,” said Dr. Eugene Washington, Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences, Dean, David Geffen School of medicine.
Dr. Reiter noted, “Over the past ten years, the UCLA prostate SPORE has had some great successes, such as the development of the drug enzalutamide by Drs. Charles Sawyers and Michael Jung in our first cycle, the identification of prostate stem cells by Dr. Owen Witte and colleagues, and the discovery and development of antibodies against the PSCA (prostate stem cell antigen) gene that have gone from discovery through to clinical trials. Other highlights include Dr. Hong Wu’s work on the PTEN tumor suppressor gene and the work of Dr. Bill Aronson and colleagues demonstrating that dietary changes can affect the growth rate of prostate tumors.”
According to the NCI, SPORE grants are designed to promote collaboration among the best scientific minds. The grants bring together researchers who might not otherwise have a chance to work together in large academic and medical institutions. The goal is to translate basic research from the laboratories into patient care much more quickly and effectively. The UCLA prostate SPORE is the only one in California and one of only approximately seven in the U.S.
The specific aims of the renewed grant center on:
- Translational research to investigate what makes prostate cancer spread and become castration resistant
- Targeting cancer stem cells and signaling pathways
- Evaluating effects and mechanisms of dietary change for prostate cancer prevention
- Providing organizational infrastructure and novel technologies to support the SPORE objectives
- Developing new research areas and careers of new researchers to advance prostate cancer translational research
Four key projects are the basis of the UCLA prostate SPORE:
- Project 1: Drs. Robert Reiter and Anna Wu will focus on N-cadherin, a protein expressed widely across prostate cancers. N-cadherin is required for the emergence and survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer; thus it meets the NCI definition of a credentialed treatment target for prostate cancer. The overall goal of this project is to translate N-cadherin-targeted antibody therapy into the clinic.
- Project 2: Drs. Hong Wu and Matthew Rettig will focus on the P13K and MAPK signaling pathways. An overarching hypothesis of this project is that prostate cancer can be classified according to alterations in signaling pathways. Individual tumors need to be classified according to which pathways are involved and must be treated with combination treatments that prevent an alternate pathway from being activated when one is blocked. By blocking both these signaling pathways, this project promises to advance the management of castration-resistant prostate cancer.
- Project 3: Drs. Owen Witte, Matthew Rettig, and Andrew Goldstein will be focusing on prostate cancer stem cells, which are thought to be resistant to castration and most conventional therapies. Their overall rational is that optimal cancer therapy requires targeting the bulk of differentiated or adult cancer cells as well as the cancer stem cells. This project will focus on targeting a gene called Trop-2, which is present on normal and malignant prostate stem cells. This is a novel approach to prostate cancer treatment.
- Project 4: Drs. William Aronson and Pinchas Cohen will focus on advancing the understanding of the molecular effects of diet and their ability to employ diet in prevention and management of early prostate cancer, based on their study that a low-fat/fish oil diet slowed the growth of prostate tumors.
Dr. Judith Gasson, JCCC director, professor medicine, and senior associate dean for research said that the prostate cancer SPORE is a shining example of the excellence in interdisciplinary research at UCLA. He explained, “We’ll be able to move forward more quickly now to develop new and better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat prostate cancer with the goal of saving tens of thousands of lives every year.”