Common Therapy for Prostate Cancer May Promote Metastasis

A study published in the journal Cancer Research last month suggests that the principle treatment for advanced prostate cancer may actually encourage prostate cancer cells to metastasize [1]. Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine focused on a gene called Nestin, which encodes an intermediate filament protein. Intermediate filaments are cytoskeletal or scaffolding structures found in cells that, in addition to maintaining cell shape, control a variety of cellular processes including proliferation, migration and survival [2]. Nestin gene expression also distinguishes stem cells from differentiated cells and has been shown to be activated in pediatric brain tumors and rhabdomyosarcomas (cancers that develop from skeletal muscle), central nervous system tumors and gastrointestinal stromal tumors [3-6].

Treating Cancer with Personalized Medicine

A Michigan oncologist recently devised a simple experiment to help treat seven patients with advanced, incurable cancer. The experiment used DNA microarray technology to analyze each patient’s tumors for the expression of genes associated with positive response to anti-cancer drugs. The oncologist, Dr. Eric Lester, M.D., then based his drug treatment plans on the results. Four of seven patients are reported to have had a better outcome than expected [1].

microarrayAlthough every cell in the body contains identical genetic material, the same genes are not active in every cell. Tumor cells are no exception. Cancer refers to any one of a large number of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth and proliferation. Few of these diseases can be treated in the same way, since the genes responsible for a variety of biological processes — DNA duplication, cellular proliferation, cell death — are different from one tumor to the next.

Dichloroacetate Not Ready for Therapeutic Use

Dichloroacetate has been in the headlines recently, reported to be a cheap, effective cancer cure. The article was published in both print and on the website, and ran with the headline “Cheap, safe drug kills most cancers”, implying incorrectly that it can kill tumor cells in humans.

Researchers at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, recently reported that they found a cheap and easy drug to produce that is able to cause tumor regression in lung, breast and brain tumor cells grown in culture and lung tumors grown in immunocompromised rats. The drug, Dichloroacetate (DCA), targets mitochondria (meaning an organelle in the cell that produces energy) and induces apoptosis (meaning cell death), decreases proliferation and selectively inhibits cancer cell growth. It did not have any effects on normal, non-cancerous tissue. The findings were published in the January edition of the journal Cancer Cell.

Cancer cells don’t use mitochondria for energy, instead using glycolysis (meaning the initial process of most of carbohydrate metabolism), which is less effective and more wasteful. Researchers have long believed this occurred because mitochondria in cancer cells were damaged. However, this new data suggests that the mitochondria in cancer cells are dormant and DCA reactivates them.