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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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New Assessments and Therapies for Prostate Cancer Being Developed at Houston VA

September 10, 2002

New Assessments and Therapies for Prostate Cancer Being Developed at Houston VA

HVAMC researchers are developing a blood test to predict patients who will have a cancer recurrence after surgery.
by Katherine Hoffman, HVAMC Research and Development

Released: 2002/09/10

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Prostate cancer survivor, Benjamin Muller, discusses prostate cancer with Lisa Jean Cole, PA-C, HVAMC physician assistant during a follow-up appointment. Mr. Muller encourages all veterans to be screened for prostate cancer and to talk openly with their Primecare Provider about the disease. Prostate cancer kills 30,000 people each year and is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

Photo by Shawn James, HVAMC Media Section

HOUSTON, TX - Researchers at the Houston VA Medical Center (HVAMC) are taking aim at a killer - prostate cancer.

"Our research is focusing on two key areas, improvements in detection and surveillance techniques for prostate cancer and therapies for advanced disease," said Dr. Timothy Thompson, a staff physician in the HVAMC Research Line.

Thompson and many other HVAMC researchers receive funding through a $14 million Specialized Program for Research Excellence (SPORE) for prostate cancer awarded to Baylor by the National Cancer Institute. Thompson, who is also a professor of urology, radiology, and molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, directs the program.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer kills 30,000 men each year and is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.

One key HVAMC research activity involves the discovery and investigation of a protein, caveolin-1, related to aggressive prostate cancer.

"This protein is produced and secreted by prostate cancer that has the potential to spread throughout the body and to be resistant to any kind of hormone therapy," Thompson said. "We are developing a blood test that can be used to predict patients who will have a cancer recurrence after surgery."

After further clinical studies, Thompson hopes this minimally-invasive, non-biopsy test will provide physicians and patients with more specific information about the potential risk that a prostate cancer will spread and recur. He sees this test as an additional tool that might be used in combination with the standard prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test.

Caveolin-1 also has potential as a molecular target for antibody therapy. Since it is secreted by aggressive prostate cancers and feeds the adjacent cells, Thompson and his HVAMC colleagues are looking at ways to interfere with that process by using an antibody.

"We have demonstrated in animals that we can suppress the metastasis, or spread, of the prostate cancer by injecting an antibody to caveolin," said Thompson.

Another type of therapy under investigation at the HVAMC is gene immunotherapy.

"Gene immunotherapy uses the tumor as an active vaccine," Thompson said. "If you inject the right gene or gene combination into the tumor, it will stimulate the patient's immune system to react against the tumor. This could certainly be a big boost to treating systemic metastatic prostate cancer."

HVAMC researchers are currently investigating various genes with the potential to not only destroy the tumor but also to generate a systemic anti-tumor immune response.

With the right gene therapy, the immune system will generate a defense against tumor cells present at the time of therapy and will continue to fight these cells any time they are encountered.

Clinical trials using gene immunotherapy will begin this year and will be open to qualified patients who received radiation therapy for prostate cancer and later experienced a rise in their PSA reading.

"These trials will utilize a gene that is a good tumor killer and also is quite potent as an immune system stimulator," Thompson said. "A gene discovered in our SPORE program may be even more powerful."

Researchers at the HVAMC are making a major contribution to the Specialized Program for Research Excellence for prostate cancer, Thompson says. "The research involves basic scientists and clinicians in an environment where they can work together to solve health problems. I think the payoff for patients will be major improvements to detection and treatment of prostate cancer."

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

04/21/04 08:25