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Columbia Supercomputer Zooms in on Prostate Cancer Genes

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TWC News: Columbia Supercomputer Zooms in on Prostate Cancer Genes
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A new breakthrough in prostate cancer research could mean better treatment and cost savings. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men.

The problem is that of the 15 percent of men who will likely be diagnosed with prostate cancer, most will have the least aggressive form, but it may be treated just as drastically as the most aggressive cases.

"You've got this very early stage tumor, and the pathologist looking at it, it's kind of like a Clint Eastwood deal—do you feel lucky? You know? What is this gonna turn out to be?... As a result a lot of men are over diagnosed. Their prostates are getting taken out when they shouldn't be," Dr. Cory Abate-Shen, Research Director at the Columbia University Urology Department.

That can lead to a whole host of other complications—not to mention, it adds to the rising cost of healthcare.

Columbia University researchers Cory Abate-Shen and Andrea Califano say they've discovered the answer to the problem, though, with the help of algorithms developed on the school's super computer.

"That supercomputer created the model that was then used to ask the question, 'what are the genes that are regulating this cancer?'" says Califano.

The two genes FOXM1 and CENFP by themselves do not cause cancer, but when they link up together, the computer showed, they cause the worst damage.

They then tested the theory out in the lab on hundreds of slices of mouse and human prostate tumors.

"Almost everybody who died in that study had in fact these two proteins activated," says Califano.

Combined with Abate-Shen's discovery of three low-risk prostate cancer genes, which we reported last September, they now have a collection of bio-markers that could predict very early on how bad a cancer will be.

The ultimate goal is to minimize the over-treatment of prostate cancer and to create more therapies for the most aggressive cases.

"When we turn these genes off in prostate cancer cells, the cancers stop immediately. They just arrest. If we develop drugs that effectively target these we can treat patients with very aggressive prostate cancers," says Abate-Shen.

About two more years of clinical trials are still needed before we'll see diagnostic tests and drugs on the market.

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