Researchers have found a new gene fusion that is highly expressed in a subset of prostate cancers.
This discovery could lead to more accurate prostate cancer testing and new targets for potential treatments.
According to researchers from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, gene fusions, a hybrid gene formed from two previously separated genes, may be at the root of what causes cancer cells to grow more quickly than normal cells.
The new findings are exciting because, unlike two previously discovered fusions, the new fusion, called NDRG1-ERG, produces a protein that may be a potential target for drug therapies.
"The prostate cancer gene fusions, and proteins they produce, are important because they serve as a cancer-specific marker. Currently, PSA testing is the standard of care, yet it is not accurate enough to predict prostate cancer, because many men may have an elevated PSA level, but have benign conditions such as inflammation of the prostate," said Dr. Mark A. Rubin.
He said that it is important to distinguish harmful cancer from non-lethal diseases, such as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or enlarged prostate disease that exhibits similar symptoms to prostate cancer, in order to provide effective care.
Gen-Probe, a biotechnology diagnostics company, has licensed the new technology and is currently working towards developing urine tests to screen for gene fusions as a means of improving upon the current standard PSA test.
Rubin has earlier described the discovery of the TMPRSS2-ERG fusion found in 45 percent of prostate cancers.
However, the new gene fusion, although only seen in 5 percent of prostate cancers, is the only one of this fusion class that is predicted to produce a protein.
This fusion protein may be a target for drug therapy and could help target the other more common gene fusions.
"In the future, these fusions, specific to certain types of prostate cancer, may help physicians prescribe tailored therapies for their patients by avoiding the trial and error that is often associated with cancer treatments," said Rubin.
He added: "We believe this is a first step toward providing patients with specific therapies that target individual cancer variants, and hope these findings will help doctors diagnose a patient's specific disease."
The study has been published in the journal Neoplasia.