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Researchers identify distinctive signature for metastatic prostate cancer

Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have identified a telltale change in cellular machinery that could help clinicians predict whether prostate cancers are likely to spread or remain relatively harmless in the prostate.

The researchers found that a cellular signaling molecule called Hedgehog, which drives normal development and regeneration of prostate tissue, is greatly activated in prostate cancers. This elevated activity distinguishes dangerous metastatic cancers those that are likely to spread from those that remain benign and localized to the prostate.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, and an estimated 230,000 cases will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Treatment for prostate cancer can cause significant side effects, including sexual and urinary dysfunction, yet may not be needed for men whose cancers are unlikely to spread.

The researchers' findings were published September 12, 2004, in an advance online publication in the journal Nature. The scientists were led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator Philip A. Beachy and his colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Drs. David Berman and Sunil Karhadkar. Additional coauthors included other colleagues at Johns Hopkins and a researcher from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"These findings quite unexpectedly extend understanding of the Hedgehog pathway to a role in prostate cancer, which is a major form of cancer," commented molecular oncologist Charles Sawyers, an HHMI investigator at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA. "The results are incredibly interesting, because they are among the most promising I've seen to enable distinguishing good-risk cancers from bad-risk cancers and thus, those that need minimal therapy from those that are lethal."

The Hedgehog signaling pathway is a well-known regulator of organ development. Beachy and his colleague
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Contact: Jennifer Michalowski
michalow@hhmi.org
301-215-8576
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
13-Sep-2004


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