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Prostate Cancer Foundation Commits $4.3 Million to Young Investigators

2008 Awards Go to 19 Young, Innovative Researchers Whose Programs Exhibit Potential for Battling Prostate Cancer

August 19, 2008 -- The Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) today announced 22 Young Investigators Awards for 2008. Designed to encourage the most innovative research thinkers to continue their careers in prostate cancer research, the awards provide recipients with $75,000 annually for three years to support specified research programs. These awards, totaling $225,000 each, are matched by the recipients’ institutions. This round of Young Investigator Awards represents a new $4.3 million commitment by the PCF to the global cancer research community.

The PCF’s Young Investigator awards are inspired by Donald S. Coffey, PhD, prostate cancer research director at Johns Hopkins for 40 years. He has mentored more than 50 scientists and physician-scientists and trained more than 30 of today’s leading prostate cancer researchers. These awards provide career and project support for young (generally 35 and under), proven investigators who have already achieved junior faculty positions and are committing their lives to the field of prostate cancer.

“The response to the first year’s call for applicants was global, resulting in 76 applications from eight countries in North America, Europe and Asia,” commented Dr. Howard Soule, executive vice president and chief science officer for the PCF. “The research proposals focused on 16 different prostate cancer research areas. The applicants represented seven medical and scientific disciplines including medical oncology, radiation oncology, urology, pathology, imaging science and many areas of molecular science. Supporting a focus on prostate cancer by talented, young investigators is critical to realizing the PCF’s goal of accelerating breakthrough discoveries that can potentially end death and suffering from prostate cancer.”

The 2008 PCF Young Investigator Award recipients are:

Andrew Armstrong, MD, MSc

Duke University – Durham, North Carolina

Dr. Armstrong’s program focuses on discovering biomarkers that will identify patients with prostate cancer who are at higher risk for a more aggressive clinical progression of the disease. Molecular markers to predict metastasis will be studied on circulating tumor cells – the small proportion of prostate cancer cells that “break away” from the primary cancer and enter blood circulation. Patients presenting these markers might be treated aggressively at an earlier stage of disease.

Daniel George, MD, and Mariano Garcia-Blanco, MD, PhD, will be mentors for Dr. Armstrong. Dr. George is a genitourinary medical oncologist who leads clinical research in prostate cancer at Duke. Dr. Garcia-Blanco is an RNA biologist whose laboratory is investigating the mechanisms by which prostate cancer cells adapt over time and develop the capacity to metastasize, or spread through the body.

Mohamed S. Arredouani, PhD

Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital – Boston, Massachusetts

Immunization of patients to generate an immune response to eliminate cancer is an increasingly important therapeutic strategy for advanced prostate cancer. Dr. Arredouani proposes to develop a new generation of prostate cancer vaccines with molecules known to be involved in the malignant transformation of prostate cells. Two such molecules have been selected and will be tested.

Martin Sanda, MD, an eminent urologic oncologist and cancer research leader in urology at Harvard, will mentor Dr. Arredouani.

Gerhardt Attard, MD

The Institute for Cancer Research – London, UK

Inhibition of CYP17 by abiraterone has promising anti-tumor activity in advanced prostate cancer. This experimental medication blocks the production of the gasoline that fuels cancerous tumor growth. Nonetheless, 50 percent of chemotherapy-treated patients do not respond to abiraterone from the outset, and the majority of patients eventually develop acquired resistance. Circulating tumor cells, the small number of cells that break away from a solid mass and enter blood circulation, will be studied to identify a biomarker profile that predicts which patients might be sensitive to abiraterone and those that might become resistant.

Dr. Johann de Bono, a preeminent medical oncologist at the Institute of Cancer Research in London and a leader in prostate cancer clinical trials, will be Dr. Attards mentor.

Tarek Bismar, MD

University of Calgary - Canada

A specific fusion of pieces of two chromosomes is present in 50 percent of prostate cancers and is thought to drive the disease. In addition, a normal protein named PTEN suppresses tumor development unless genetically altered as is the case in many advanced prostate cancer cases. Dr. Bismar proposes to study both of these changes in model systems in an attempt to discover how together they deregulate the control of growth and survival that result in prostate cancer.

Peter Forsyth, MD, an accomplished physician-scientist in molecular biology, will provide mentorship for Dr. Bismar.

Steve Cho, MD

Johns Hopkins University – Baltimore, Maryland

New methods to image prostate cancer at the microscopic level are urgently needed. Prostate specific membrane antigen (PSMA) is expressed on the surface of prostate cancer and represents a promising target for prostate cancer PET imaging. Lower molecular weight small molecule PET radiotracers should improve solid tumor detection. A novel small molecule radiotracer PET imaging agent has been developed to target PSMA with higher PET imaging resolution. In this proposal, Dr. Cho will begin to characterize this PET tracer in prostate cancer clinical trials for the objective of monitoring tumor volume changes during experimental treatment.

Martin Pomper, MD, PhD, an eminent radiologist who specializes in nuclear medicine and molecular imaging of cancer at Johns Hopkins, will provide mentorship.

Atish Dipankar Choudhury, MD, PhD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute - Boston, Massachusetts

Dr. Choudhury is investigating the molecular mechanisms underlying the transition from androgen-dependent to androgen-independent growth in human prostate cancer. He is currently studying several promising candidate genes that were identified through a cDNA library screen.

Dr. William Hahn will serve as mentor.

Scott M. Dehm, PhD

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota – Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the event that surgery or radiation does not curtail prostate cancer, locally recurrent or metastatic disease may be treated via a systemic blockade of the production or action of androgens. This so-called androgen ablation therapy specifically inhibits the androgen receptor (AR), a receptor that drives the proliferation and survival of prostate cancer. However, androgen ablation is not curative, and prostate cancer can invariably progress. Novel modes of AR inhibition are needed to study advanced prostate cancer. The goal of this proposal is to create models that reflect how AR continues to cause proliferation and survival of prostate cancer even after androgen synthesis and activity are blocked.

Dr. Dehm’s mentors at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota will be Kenneth Koeneman, MD, a urology specialist, and James McCarthy, PhD, who focuses on prostate cancer tumor biology and leads the Tumor Biology and Progression Research Program at the cancer center.

Eleni Efstathiou, MD, PhD

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center – Houston, Texas

New experimental medications that shut off androgen (the fuel for prostate cancer) synthesis will likely become a standard of care for advanced prostate cancer in the next few years. The goal of Dr. Efstathiou’s program is to measure androgen levels in the area of prostate cancer bone metastases to determine if androgens are undetectable, as is the case in tumor tissue from other sites, when total androgen suppressive medications are administered. It is thought that these studies will help determine which patients could benefit from or be resistant to these new medications.

Christopher Logothetis, MD will provide mentorship. Dr. Logothetis is a prostate cancer medical oncologist and heads the David H. Koch Prostate Cancer Center at M.D. Anderson. Dr. Logothetis has a long record of developing the careers of young investigators who have gone on to make important contributions to the field.

Adam Feldman, MD

Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center– Boston, Massachusetts

Novel biomarkers for improved detection and prognosis of prostate cancer are needed. Intracellular, membrane-associated and secreted proteins are differentially expressed by prostate cancer cells as compared to benign prostate cells. Dr. Feldman proposes to discover these differentially expressed proteins in urine, a non-invasive practical biological fluid for biomarker discovery. The second goal of this project is to correlate biomarker findings with prostate cancer diagnosis, grade and pathologic stage.

Matthew Smith, MD, PhD, of the MGH Cancer Center, is a world leader in prostate cancer clinical investigations for bone stability and improved survivorship in patients on hormonal therapy, and Bruce Zetter, PhD, a world-leading cancer biologist at Harvard Medical School, will serve as Dr. Feldman’s co-mentors.

Steven Frank, MD

The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center – Houston, Texas

Following prostate cancer treatment, men are often embarrassed if they become incontinent. Recent data reveals that up to 33 percent of men or approximately 73,000 men annually will be wearing diapers or pads for up to two years following their treatment. The goal of Dr. Frank’s proposal is to eliminate incontinence by 2012 for men treated with brachytherapy through MRI image-guided radiation therapy. With accurate dose determination, cancer cure rates will increase and side effects will decrease translating into an improvement in quality of life following prostate cancer treatment.

David Swanson, MD, will provide mentorship. He has a record of more than 32 years as a scholar at M.D. Anderson and has helped develop the careers of dozens of now well-established investigators.

Thomas Guzzo, MD

University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dr. Guzzo is a urologist completing his fellowship program at Johns Hopkins. He is also a Neubauer Family-PCF Young Investigator at the University of Pennsylvania where he will be creating a prostate cancer translational research unit within the urology division. Dr. Guzzo will focus on clinical outcomes to improve surgical results for men diagnosed with early prostate cancer that include novel approaches to reducing morbidity from surgery.

Dr. Guzzo will be mentored by Alan Wein, MD. Dr. Wein is head of the Division of Urology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Chief of Urology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the editor of the leading textbook in urology.

Airi Harui, PhD

University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Harui’s work is focused on developing a therapeutic prostate cancer vaccine that will promote a patient’s natural immunity to destroy tumor cells.

Dr. Michael D. Roth will serve as mentor.

Andrea Harzstark, MD

University of California at San Francisco

Immunotherapy offers the potential to stimulate a prostate cancer patient’s immune response to kill a growing tumor. Unfortunately, cancer cells are very weak vaccine agents and require other co-therapeutic strategies to be effective. Dr. Harzstark proposes to enhance the immune response to prostate cancer with a variety of approaches that might result in elimination of tumors.

Dr. Eric Small will serve as mentor. He is a leader and frequently published expert in the field of prostate cancer immunotherapy clinical investigation, the research area upon which Dr. Harzstark will focus.

Sarah Holt, PhD

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – Seattle, Washington

Carcinogenic effects of estrogen on the prostate have been demonstrated in laboratory models. Furthermore, there is a current resurgence of interest in using synthetic estrogens to treat patients with advanced prostate cancer. Dr. Holt plans to study genetic alterations in genes responsible for estrogen sensitivity and metabolism in the prostate of approximately 1,457 prostate cancer patients compared to 1351 control subjects without prostate cancer. Results should help identify patients with increased risk for primary prostate cancer and those who might develop a more aggressive form of the disease.

Dr. Janet Stanford, an internationally-recognized prostate cancer geneticist and population scientist, will provide mentorship.

Sanaz Memarzadeh, MD, PhD

University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Memarzadeh’s project aim is to determine the role of androgen receptor (AR) signaling in the initiation of prostate cancer.  AR is a protein that is stimulated by androgens, such as testosterone, and drives the proliferation and survival of prostate cancer cells.

Dr. Owen Witte will serve as mentor.

Lorelei A. Mucci, ScD, MPH

Harvard School of Public Health – Boston, Massachusetts

A recent finding in prostate cancer biology is the existence of specific fusions of chromosomes in disparate regions of a patient’s genome. These fusions give rise to expression of molecules with strong cancer-causing properties. Emerging data suggest men with tumors that lack the fusion have an improved prognosis compared to men with fusion-positive prostate cancer. This scientist will study 1,500 prostate cancer patients to understand the relationship of the gene fusions to hormonal balance, energy balance, and healthy weight. The impact of these physiological properties on patient survival will be determined.

Dr. Mucci will be co-mentored by Philip Kantoff, MD (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and Meir Stampfer, MD, MPH (Harvard School of Public Health). Drs. Kantoff and Stampfer are among the most frequently cited prostate cancer researchers in the world for high-impact contributions.

Mark Pomerantz, MD

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute - Boston, Massachusetts

During the past two years, genomic scans have identified the genetic basis of prostate cancer risk. In his project, Dr. Pomerantz will perform research to determine the molecular basis of increased prostate cancer risk in individuals that possess the genomic alterations. Understanding these mechanisms of risk may lead to new targets to inhibit the progression of prostate cancer.

Philip Kantoff, MD an expert translational and clinical prostate cancer researcher and leader of the NCI’s prostate cancer Special Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) at Harvard, and Matthew Freedman, MD, an experienced genomics researcher, will co-mentor Dr. Pomerantz.

Ganesh Raj, MD

UT Southwestern Medical Center – Dallas, Texas

The androgen receptor (AR) system plays a central role in prostate cancer and represents a critical target for novel drugs in the treatment for this disease. Targeting specific genes is now possible, but the delivery of these new inhibitors to their targets is difficult. The focus of Dr. Raj’s proposal is to refine a system that will be both an MR imaging agent and a drug delivery vehicle for gene-targeted inhibitors. Specific gene targets are the AR and AR-associated molecules.

Jer-Tsong Hsieh, PhD, a leader in human prostate cancer molecular biology and a professor of urology at UT Southwestern, will provide mentorship for Dr. Raj.

William L. Redmond, PhD

Providence Portland Medical Center – Portland, Oregon

Recent clinical trials have demonstrated that immunotherapy-based treatments hold promise for prostate cancer therapy, including tumor-specific vaccines and immuno-enhancing agents. Dr. Redmond proposes to further enhance cancer vaccine therapy by the discovery and development of new classes of immunostimulators.

His mentor, Dr. Andrew Weinberg, is a leading human tumor immunologist with a strong track record of mentoring young biomedical researchers towards independent careers.

Nima Sharifi, MD

UT Southwestern Medical Center – Dallas, Texas

Metastatic prostate cancer is treated with androgen deprivation therapy that reduces testosterone, the “gasoline” that fuels the growth and progression of prostate cancer. Despite frequent responses, tumors almost always recur with subsequent activation of the androgen receptor (AR), the target for testosterone. Therefore, therapies that down-regulate AR using novel mechanisms, have a tremendous potential to introduce new treatments and improve the outlook for prostate cancer patients. The first objective of this proposal is to determine if the down regulation of certain anti-oxidants will over-activate AR function. The second objective of this proposal is to use a novel method to find better tumor markers that herald prostate cancer progression in state of poor anti-oxidation.

Dr. Sharifi will be mentored by Thomas Kodadek, PhD, chief of the division of translational medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. He is an eminent biochemist who has made significant contributions to fundamental cancer research.

Scott Tagawa, MD

Weill Cornell Medical College – New York, New York

J591 is a monoclonal antibody against prostate specific membrane antigen (PSMA), a molecule on the surface of prostate cancer cells. Studies using J591 linked to radioisotopes (radioimmunotherapy, RIT) have demonstrated safety and efficacy as well as the ability to target known sites of disease in metastatic prostate cancer. Dr. Tagawa will continue clinical investigations of J591 in patients with advanced prostate cancer to determine the dosage and optimal administration schedule required to effectively treat the disease.

Neil Bander, MD, a world leader in urologic oncology translational research and inventor of the J591 monoclonal antibody, will provide mentorship.

Scott Tomlins, PhD

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Michigan

Specific chromosomal rearrangements in more than half of prostate cancers, using a novel analysis of DNA microarray data, were identified in 2005. These rearrangements result in the fusion of two genes that are normally located on separate chromosomes. These gene fusions become rational targets for prostate cancer therapy and also can be used for diagnosis. Dr. Tomlins proposes to work on developing tests for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer using these gene fusions as well as characterizing additional dysregulated genes in prostate cancer.

Arul Chinnaiyan, MD, PhD, an eminent professor of pathology and urology who specializes in molecular profiling of cancer at the University of Michigan Medical School, will provide mentorship for Dr. Tomlins.

“Human capital is our most precious asset in the fight against prostate cancer. Nurturing and perpetuating promising careers has become the most difficult of our many challenges in the current funding environment,” explained Dr. Jonathan Simons, president, chief executive officer and David H. Koch Chair for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “We at the PCF developed this program to keep the field of prostate cancer research vibrant with new ideas by identifying future research leaders who are in their thirties. We are impressed by their exceptional dedication to the field and the brilliance in their research proposals.”

True to the foundation’s commitment to rapid deployment of funding for prostate cancer research, the application and selection process was completed within seven weeks of receipt of proposals through electronic submission and review of applications. The 19 Young Investigator Award recipients were selected by an expert committee comprised of 25 leading scientists and clinicians.


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 www.pcf.org.

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