One in nine men will develop prostate cancer in his lifetime.
Improved screening, earlier diagnosis, and new treatments have increased the prognosis for many, but some develop advanced prostate cancer that no longer responds to standard of care therapies.
Justin Drake, Ph.D., part of the U’s pharmacology and urology faculty, is especially interested in why a prostate cancer treatment called androgen deprivation therapy works initially, but eventually becomes ineffective in blocking the function of a culprit protein called the androgen receptor (AR).
When androgen deprivation therapy fails, prostate cancer will usually evolve into a more aggressive form of the disease called castration resistant prostate cancer. Researchers believe that variations in the AR protein play an important role in resistance to the therapy. With Masonic support, Drake is developing a tool that screens tumor tissues and cells for several of these AR variant proteins simultaneously.
“Understanding which androgen receptor variant proteins are present in the tumors of men with castration resistant prostate cancer will help predict which treatments the tumors are more likely to respond to,” says Drake.
So far, Drake’s team has discovered several novel AR variant proteins that could be critically important for identifying patients who might benefit from select therapies in the clinic. Going forward, they will continue to confirm that these proteins are present in patient samples. They also aim to shift their testing so that it is based entirely on a simple blood draw, rather than a tumor biopsy, which will avoid invasive surgery and, ultimately, allow for easier surveillance and adaptations in treatment over time.
“Support from Minnesota Masonic Charities has been invaluable. I am truly grateful for their generosity. It has helped to fuel our work in trying to identify biomarkers for treating prostate cancer patients.”