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Scientists discover switched off gene in prostate cancer cells

Posted: 26 October 2015 | Victoria White

The discovery could shed light on how prostate cancer spreads and provides a possible new target for the disease…

A research team, led by scientists at the University of Nottingham, have made a genetic discovery which sheds light on how prostate cancer spreads.

The scientists have identified a significant gene called miR137 that is switched off in prostate cancer cells.

The researchers studied the role of androgens in prostate cancer. Androgens are important signalling molecules, which play an essential role in men’s health by driving the development, repair and regeneration of the prostate and other tissues. However defective and amplified androgen signalling can trigger prostate cancer and its spread.

Resistance to androgen inhibitors is a major challenge

For this reason, many available prostate cancer treatments are aimed at blocking androgen signalling. However, resistance to such therapies is a major clinical challenge. The gene identified by the team is switched off in prostate cancer cells. It functions like a ‘dimmer switch’ in normal cells to reduce androgen signalling.

In prostate cancer, where miR137 is switched off, the effect of androgen signalling is increased. Therefore the loss of miR137 leads to enhanced androgen signalling which contributes to prostate cancer initiation and progression.

The study has also identified many new potential targets for the next generation of drugs to treat prostate cancer. New research is now underway in the Mongan’s laboratory at Nottingham to test the effect of various pharmacological treatments in preclinical prostate cancer studies.

Lead researcher at Nottingham, Dr Nigel Mongan, commented on the urgent need for new treatments for prostate cancer, “With many men continuing to die from metastatic prostate cancer, there is an urgent need to develop new ways to enable the early identification of aggressive cancers when such tumours remain localised within the prostate gland when surgery is most effective. We also need to make sure that men with indolent disease do not receive unnecessary treatment which can lead to urinary continence and sexual dysfunction.”

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