prostate cancer discovery

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the patrick c. walsh prostate cancer research fund

Targeting Prostate Cancer Cells That Hibernate

When cancer escapes the prostate, some cells go to the bone marrow, where they are alive but dormant. "These sleeping cells are resistant to conventional therapy," says scientist Sushant Kachhap, Ph.D., which means that if they wake up and cancer begins to grow outside the prostate, "there are very few therapeutic options."

The dormancy seems to have a protective effect — think of Sleeping Beauty, who managed to sleep for 100 years and hadn't aged a day when the prince woke her up.

Kachhap is intrigued by these hibernating prostate cancer cells. What makes them sleep? What wakes them wake up? "While we know a great deal about how cancer grows, very little is known about the biology of prostate cancer dormancy," he says. "This makes targeting these dormant cells a challenge, but also extremely important." Kachhap believes that the ability to become dormant is acquired "very early in the process of metastasis, when prostate cancer cells leave the prostate and enter the bloodstream."

The dormancy seems to have a protective effect — think of Sleeping Beauty, who managed to sleep for 100 years and hadn't aged a day when the prince woke her up. "Normally, when cells break off from the parent organ, they die due to a mechanism called anoikis. But detached prostate cancer cells survive by signaling a process called autophagy, where parts of the cell are broken down and the energy is used for survival." In research supported by the Patrick C. Walsh Prostate Cancer Research Fund, Kachhap will use cell and animal models to investigate what triggers dormancy in prostate cancer cells — whether it's caused by breaking off from the main tumor, or by autophagy, or something else. "Moving forward, we will test whether inhibiting autophagy can lead to death of dormant prostate cancer cells. We believe this work can lead to new strategies for targeting dormant prostate cancer cells, and inhibiting metastatic cancer."

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