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Revolutionary medical treatment targets and kills prostate, skin and breast cancers

New research offers a promising avenue to combat the escalating challenge of treatment resistance in prostate cancer.
New research offers a promising avenue to combat the escalating challenge of treatment resistance in prostate cancer. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Researchers have achieved a groundbreaking discovery in the fight against prostate cancer by pinpointing a singular enzyme, known as PI5P4Kα, that holds the potential to eliminate the disease.

The recent publication of their findings in Science Advances unveils a pivotal breakthrough, offering a promising avenue to combat the escalating challenge of treatment resistance in prostate cancer. Moreover, this revelation holds the prospect of advancing treatment strategies not only for prostate cancer but also for other malignancies, including those affecting the breast, skin, and pancreas.


Co-senior author, Dr. Brooke Emerling, an associate professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys, underscores the significance of this milestone, stating, "This marks the inaugural identification of this enzyme's involvement in prostate cancer, with implications extending to diverse cancer types."

Dr. Emerling emphasizes the importance of employing a multifaceted approach in precision medicine to confront cancer comprehensively while minimizing the emergence of resistance.

A significant number of prostate cancer instances can be addressed with therapies aimed at reducing testosterone and other male sex hormones. However, approximately 10–20% of prostate cancer cases prove resistant to such treatments within five years. This form of prostate cancer, resistant to treatment, can subsequently metastasize to other parts of the body, posing a lethal threat.


“Understanding how prostate cancer develops resistance is critical for discovering new therapeutic strategies to delay or reverse the progression of prostate cancer,” says Emerling.

The growth of the prostate gland relies on male sex hormones, specifically androgens. Prostate cancer exploits this dependence on androgens by manipulating the signaling pathways associated with these hormones, enabling it to proliferate rapidly. This explains why therapies targeting these pathways are successful in impeding the progression of the disease.


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“What’s remarkable is that we’ve found an enzyme that can be targeted against prostate cancer even in cases where treatments that lower hormones are ineffective or where resistance has developed,” says Emerling. “This could give us a whole new weapon against prostate cancer and other cancers that rely on this enzyme.”

The impetus for the study arose from an observation made by colleagues of Emerling at the University of Bern, headed by co-senior author Mark A. Rubin. They observed elevated levels of PI5P4Kα in patients with treatment-resistant prostate cancer, indicating a potential involvement of this protein in the cancer's resistance to treatment and its proliferation.


Building upon this insight, Emerling's team conducted experiments across various prostate cancer model systems, demonstrating that the inhibition of this enzyme could effectively eradicate treatment-resistant prostate cancer cells.

Associate Professor Brooke Emerling
Associate Professor Brooke Emerling (CREDIT: Sanford Burnham Prebys)

“It was that initial observation from the patient data that really got us excited,” adds Emerling. PI5P4Kα belongs to a family of enzymes known as PI5P4Ks, which play a crucial role in lipid metabolism. Lipids encompass various molecules such as fats, hormones, and numerous vitamins.


Despite decades of intensive research in other realms of cancer metabolism, the significance of lipid metabolism as a potential target for cancer therapy has only come to light in recent years.

“Treatments that target lipid metabolism could be an unexplored treasure trove, and it’s something researchers are very interested in right now,” says Emerling. “We’re working to develop drugs to target this enzyme, and there are several companies out there developing their own drugs as well.”

Because of this interest, Emerling and her colleagues are optimistic about the future of this treatment approach. She says, “There’s no drug yet, but I have high hopes that in the near future, we’ll have something in clinical trials. That would be amazing.”


Symptoms of prostate cancer:

According to the Mayo Clinic, prostate cancer may cause no signs or symptoms in its early stages.

The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in men and surrounds the top portion of the tube that drains urine from the bladder (urethra).
The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in men and surrounds the top portion of the tube that drains urine from the bladder (urethra). (CREDIT: Getty Images)

Prostate cancer that's more advanced may cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Trouble urinating

  • Decreased force in the stream of urine

  • Blood in the urine

  • Blood in the semen

  • Bone pain

  • Losing weight without trying

  • Erectile dysfunction


Causes of prostate cancer:

It's not clear what causes prostate cancer.

Doctors know that prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate develop changes in their DNA. A cell's DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do. The changes tell the cells to grow and divide more rapidly than normal cells do. The abnormal cells continue living, when other cells would die.

Prostate gland: The prostate gland is located just below the bladder in men and surrounds the top portion of the tube that drains urine from the bladder (urethra). The prostate's primary function is to produce the fluid that nourishes and transports sperm (seminal fluid).

The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor that can grow to invade nearby tissue. In time, some abnormal cells can break away and spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.


Risk factors for prostate cancer:

Factors that can increase your risk of prostate cancer include:

  • Older age. Your risk of prostate cancer increases as you age. It's most common after age 50.

  • Race. For reasons not yet determined, Black people have a greater risk of prostate cancer than do people of other races. In Black people, prostate cancer is also more likely to be aggressive or advanced.

  • Family history. If a blood relative, such as a parent, sibling or child, has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, your risk may be increased. Also, if you have a family history of genes that increase the risk of breast cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2) or a very strong family history of breast cancer, your risk of prostate cancer may be higher.

  • Obesity. People who are obese may have a higher risk of prostate cancer compared with people considered to have a healthy weight, though studies have had mixed results. In obese people, the cancer is more likely to be more aggressive and more likely to return after initial treatment.


Prevention of prostate cancer:

The Mayo Clinic believes that people can reduce their risk of prostate cancer if they:

Choose a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and nutrients that can contribute to your health.

Whether you can prevent prostate cancer through diet has yet to be conclusively proved. But eating a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables can improve your overall health.

Choose healthy foods over supplements. No studies have shown that supplements play a role in reducing your risk of prostate cancer. Instead, choose foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals so that you can maintain healthy levels of vitamins in your body.


Exercise most days of the week. Exercise improves your overall health, helps you maintain your weight and improves your mood. Try to exercise most days of the week. If you're new to exercise, start slow and work your way up to more exercise time each day.

Maintain a healthy weight. If your current weight is healthy, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising most days of the week. If you need to lose weight, add more exercise and reduce the number of calories you eat each day. Ask your doctor for help creating a plan for healthy weight loss.

Talk to your doctor about increased risk of prostate cancer. If you have a very high risk of prostate cancer, you and your doctor may consider medications or other treatments to reduce the risk. Some studies suggest that taking 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, including finasteride (Propecia, Proscar) and dutasteride (Avodart), may reduce the overall risk of developing prostate cancer. These drugs are used to control prostate gland enlargement and hair loss.


However, some evidence indicates that people taking these medications may have an increased risk of getting a more serious form of prostate cancer (high-grade prostate cancer). If you're concerned about your risk of developing prostate cancer, talk with your doctor.

For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by Sanford Burnham Prebys. Content may be edited for style and length.


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