Gene signatures are unique characteristics which can help in diagnosis, or prediction of the treatment outcomes of certain conditions. These gene signatures can be altered in certain medical conditions like cancer.
One such gene signature was identified by the researchers in prostate cancer which can help to predict whether the cancer is going to spread to other parts, early in the course of the disease. The gene signature can also help to predict whether the cancer will respond to anti-androgen therapy (which suppresses androgen, the male hormone, which promotes tumor progression) which is the main therapy to treat advanced cancer.
This new gene therapy can also be useful to predict the treatment outcomes and develop new therapies which can help to prevent and treat advanced prostate cancer. This study was published in Nature Cancer .
Aggressive cancer not identified by existing tests
The second leading cause of cancer related deaths among men is prostate cancer. If prostate cancer is mainly localized to the prostate, it can be successfully managed by careful monitoring and treatment which includes surgery and radiotherapy and the survival rate in such cases is high, but if the prostate cancer spreads to other parts it is very difficult to treat and the survival rate is low.
The study's lead author, Juan M. Arriaga, PhD, associate research scientist in molecular pharmacology and therapeutics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons said, "The problem is that with existing tests, it's hard to know which cancers are which. We miss a lot of aggressive cancers that should have been treated earlier, and we overtreat some slow-growing cancers that probably would not have spread."
New mouse model of prostate cancer
The new model was first studied in mouse which was able to reflect how the disease progresses in humans. The study included how the cancer spreads and what tissue is most commonly affected by the advanced prostate cancer.
Using this mouse model, the researchers were able to identify that the spread of cancer to the bones has different molecular profile than the localized cancer. Abate-Shen said, "By focusing on those differences, we were able to identify 16 genes that drive localized prostate cancer to metastasize."
Genes identified for prostate cancer metastasis
The genetic signature which is called META-16, was then tested on sample of tissue taken from from hundreds of patients which had localized prostate cancer and it was found that the genetic signature META-16 was able to predict the time to metastasis and it could also predict the response to androgen therapy.
Currently, the team is refining the test which will then enter clinical trials for further evaluation. META-16 could also potentially be used to develop therapies for treating advanced cancer.
Arriga said, "The genes in our signature are not only correlated with metastasis, they appear to be driving metastasis. That means that if that we can suppress the activity of those genes, we might be able prevent the cancer from spreading or at least improve outcomes."