UCLA scientists develop prostate cancer tracking system

Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center and in the Department of Urology have demonstrated for the first time that they can locate difficult-to-detect prostate cancer metastases in laboratory models, a discovery that could lead to safer and more effective gene-based treatments for advanced prostate cancer.

UCLA researchers engineered a virus that can identify prostate cancer cells based on the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) protein expressed only in prostate cells. Using the substance that makes fireflies glow, scientists showed through high-tech imaging that the prostate-targeted virus made prostate cancer cells appear as "hot spots," both in primary tumors and in distant metastases that were still too small to cause symptoms or appear on conventional detection scans. The next step, researchers say, will be to attach gene-based therapies to the virus, which would act as a vehicle to deliver the toxic treatment directly to the prostate cancer cells and, it is hoped, kill them.

The discovery is outlined in the Aug. 1 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medicine. The journal article was selected for early online publication and will be featured July 22 on www.nature.com.

"Prostate cancer metastases are difficult to detect and hard to treat," said Lily Wu, lead author of the article, a Jonsson Cancer Center researcher and an assistant professor of urology and pediatrics. "With this method, we've shown we can deliver a targeted virus into a lab model and can demonstrate that it is expressed only in prostate cancer cells. That means we can also deliver a targeted therapy to prostate cancer cells. The idea would be to deliver a toxic gene to the cancer that would not harm surrounding healthy cells."

Wu, who also is a member of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, estimates the gene-based delivery system could be tested in humans within three to five years.

Doctors administering gene therapy now have no way to determ

Contact: Kim Irwin
University of California - Los Angeles

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