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New Genetic Cause Identified in Prostate Cancer Development

Research Studies Funded by Prostate Cancer Foundation Help Find a Master "On" Switch for Prostate Cancer

August 6, 2007 -- Data from a new study implicates a specific genetic change as an underlying cause of prostate cancer development, according to a report published August 1, 2007, in Nature. The finding revealed that prostate cancer really is a set of different cancers that are "turned on" by a common "master switch" gene.

The groundbreaking work at the University of Michigan focuses on a specific type of genetic mutation known as a gene fusion, in which pieces of two adjacent chromosomes fuse together. The study, carried out in prostate cancer cell lines and animal models, received critical initial funding from the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF), the world's largest philanthropic source of support for prostate cancer research.

"The PCF played a key role in providing funding for the animal models of the prostate cancer gene fusion described in this study," noted lead author Arul M. Chinnaiyan, MD, PhD, Director, Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and the S. P. Hicks Endowed Professor of Pathology at the University of Michigan. Chinnaiyan has reported publically that without the PCF funding the work could not have happened. "Continued support in this area will help us understand how these potentially causal molecular alterations in prostate cancer can be therapeutically targeted in the future. We are grateful that, in addition to their previous funding, the Prostate Cancer Foundation has recently issued a $1 million challenge to our team to raise a total of $2 million to accelerate this pioneering research."

Chinnaiyan's team has found six genes that fuse with two others, called ERG or ETV1, to cause prostate cancer. The genes act as a switch, much like a light switch. When they studied lab-grown prostate cancer cells, they found these genetic changes accounted for 60 percent to 70 percent of human prostate cancer.

The University of Michigan is involved in developing a new prostate cancer test that has been licensed to San Diego-based Gen-Probe Inc. They are working on a screening tool to detect gene fusions in urine. The tool could one day supplement or replace the prostate specific antigen, or PSA, test currently used to screen for prostate cancer.

Knowing which gene fusion is involved is essential to understanding and predicting how to treat the disease. The PCF is currently funding additional research on these gene fusion questions.

"The PCF finds talented investigators with novel approaches and gives them 'venture capital' to test out their ideas," said Jonathan W. Simons, MD, Chief Executive Officer and President of the PCF. "We are proud to have helped Dr. Chinnaiyan jump start his research and to have played a role in spurring an entirely new avenue for prostate cancer research. We look forward to working with Dr. Chinnaiyan and his team on further exploring the significance of this discovery in the coming years."

About the Prostate Cancer Foundation

The Prostate Cancer Foundation is the world’s largest philanthropic source of support for prostate cancer research focused on discovering better treatments and a cure for prostate cancer. Founded in 1993, the PCF has raised more than $370 million and provided funding to more than 1,500 research projects at nearly 200 institutions worldwide. The PCF also advocates for greater awareness of prostate cancer and more governmental research funds. PCF advocacy has helped produce a 20-fold increase in government funding for prostate cancer since 1994. More information about prostate cancer and the PCF can be found at

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