prostate cancer discovery

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the patrick c. walsh prostate cancer research fund

Better than PSA: Proteomics?

As useful as PSA is, it doesn’t us all we need to know. “Unfortunately, PSA remains an imperfect marker for detecting cancer,” says urologist Michael Johnson, M.D., “and men with a ‘normal’ PSA may still harbor disease. Prostate biopsy only samples about 1 percent of the prostate. As a result, aggressive cancer can be missed.” Although PSA measurements taken over time can document the growth of prostate cancer, there is a more specific tickertape out there: proteomics.

Proteomics involves taking a very complex sample of proteins in the blood, or even in a few cells, and shining a powerful laser at it. The laser energy hits the proteins, smashes them and chucks them — think of extremely tiny Jackson Pollock paint splatters — at a detector. Each protein makes a unique signature, or fingerprint for each of its fragments. These protein splotches also serve as snapshots that mark stages in a disease: For example, in a heart attack, certain proteins made by the heart suddenly appear in the blood. Each snapshot tells a constantly changing story of disease.

Proteomics involves taking a very complex sample of proteins in the blood, or even in a few cells, and shining a powerful laser at it. The laser energy hits the proteins, smashes them and chucks them — think of extremely tiny Jackson Pollock paint splatters – at a detector.

If Johnson can learn to decipher the proteomics of the normal prostate and prostate cancer at its various stages, by measuring all of the proteins in the blood, he may come up with entirely new snapshots for doctors to use. In work supported by the Patrick C. Walsh Prostate Cancer Research Fund, Johnson will be comparing proteomic analyses on the blood of men who have undergone prostatectomy with the blood of men who have no prostate cancer; he will also be analyzing the proteins that show up in slow-growing prostate cancer and aggressive disease.

“My goal is to discover new, highly accurate markers for early diagnosis of disease that could potentially be lethal,” he says.

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