New biomarker may identify aggressive prostate cancer

A new study published in the journal Oncogene may show promise for the future of the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. Researchers at the University of Michigan have found a previously unknown biomarker that may be significant in diagnosing and treating aggressive prostate cancers. 


In the study, the researchers discovered that a protein called Runx2 could help in developing drugs to treat aggressive prostate cancers.  Runx2 is normally responsible for producing bone. However, this new research suggests Runx2 may also be able to inhibit prostate tumor cells from growing quickly.

The study author, Dr. Renny Franceschi said: "If this biomarker does indeed control the growth of prostate cells, it's a new signal that's not been seen before and could provide a potential new drug target for prostate cancer. It could also be a potential biomarker to discriminate between fast- and slow-growing tumors." 

Differentiating Between Low Risk and High Risk Prostate Cancers

Dr. Franceschi says there is a large attraction to trying to identify biomarkers to differentiate between prostate cancers that are aggressive and prostate cancers that are not. Currently, the only way to differentiate between aggressive and non-aggressive prostate cancers is with a biopsy of the prostate. When the prostate is biopsied, a pathologist can determine the aggressiveness of the disease using a Gleason score. A Gleason score of 6 or lower is less aggressive; 7 is moderately aggressive; 8 or higher is more aggressive. Using this information along with what stage the tumor is, doctors can make recommendations about the best treatment the patient should have. 


Interestingly enough, Dr. Franceschi’s research lab does not normally study prostate cancer, or cancer in general. His lab usually studies bone formation. He said: "We discovered this regulatory mechanism in bone cells, but subsequently found it was also operative in prostate cancer cells. This is the first paper the lab has published on cancer."

Within the study, the researchers investigated the process of phosphorylation and prostate cancer. Phosphorylation is when a protein is added to a phosphate group. In this case, they theorized that adding a phosphate group to the protein Runx2 would alter its structure and turn on certain genes which are found in both prostate cancer and bone. The outcome for both is very different, they said. Normally, bone cells use Runx2 and other new genes to develop healthy new bone. But whenphosphorylating prostate cancer with Runx2, the protein activates genes that initiate the tumor’s growth and spread. 

So what the researchers did was they blockedRunx2 from being phosphorylated in prostate cancerand discovered that the growth of the tumor decreased. Dr. Franceschi and his lab brought on the help of another lab in Italy. Working together, they analyzed tissue samples from prostate cancer tumors in 129 patients who were diagnosed with the disease. 

The results showed that ‘little or no Runx2 phosphorylation in patients with normal prostate, benign prostate or prostatitis. This finding suggests that Runx2 phosphorylation is only associated with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.’ The researchers are now working to determine a cause-and-effect between prostate cancer and Runx2 phosphorylation. They plan to test this in the lab using normal, healthy mice and mice who do not have Runx2 in their prostates, and compare the development of prostate cancer between the two. 

What's the Future of Treating the Most Common Cancer Among American Men?

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, other than skin cancer. It is also the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, behind lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that for 2015, there will be about 220,800 new cases of prostate cancer, and about 27,540 deaths from prostate cancer. About 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point in their life. 

Prostate cancer is a slow growing disease. How fast the tumor can grow and spread depends on the person. Specifically, it depends on what their Gleason score is and what stage their prostate cancer is. Most men can live with prostate cancer for a very long time. Currently, there are more than 2.9 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer who are still alive today. In fact, many men living with slow-growing prostate cancer often die of natural causes before dying from the disease. However, there are many who are diagnosed with an aggressive disease in which case their prostate cancer must be treated sooner rather than later in order to avoid metastasis, recurrence or significant side effects from treatment.  

Prostate Cancer Risk Factors

Who is at risk for prostate cancer? Men older than 50, African-American men, and men with a family history of prostate cancer have the highest risk for prostate cancer. It’s important to note that men younger than 40 can get prostate cancer too, although it’s rare. 

Who is at risk for aggressive prostate cancer? African-American men and men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer at a young age, such as younger than 50, are at a higher risk for aggressive prostate cancer compared to other racial and age groups.