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Prostate Cancer Research

Progress Report: Lorelei Mucci, ScD

Investigator: Lorelei Mucci, ScD – Associate Professor, Harvard School of Public Health

Patho-Epidemiology: A New Discipline Advances Understanding of Causal Links to Cancer Initiation and Progression

Understanding the risk factors for the development and progression of prostate cancer is lacking. Addressing this issue is a highly complex problem related to genetic predisposition (alterations in DNA code between individuals), alteration in tumors (protein and mRNA), and environmental influences (i.e. exposure to carcinogens, or dietary and lifestyle factors). Dr. Mucci has organized an international team of investigators who are trained in pathology, genetics and epidemiology to identify biomarkers of prostate cancer risk.

Dr. Mucci and the team have made significant progress in the last year. She presented four different ongoing studies each demonstrating compelling early data. One called the Promenade Gruppen study is testing whether walking 10,000 steps per day every day for ten weeks benefits prostate and cardiovascular health as well as quality of life in men who were newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. The study was conducted in Sweden. 25 men were in the walking group and 25 men were in the non-walking group. The walking group met once a week to walk 10,000 steps together. The results of this pilot study revealed that men who were in the walking group experienced a significant reduction in their blood pressure and a dramatic increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) with a concomitant decrease in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Additionally, analysis of the emotional well being of these men showed that they were generally optimistic and felt comforted by the group walking experiments. These data show that walking can improve cardiovascular and emotional health for prostate cancer survivors. Dr. Mucci and colleagues are currently initiating a larger, 2 year study with a total of 1,500 men to validate these findings. The larger study will also assess the impact of certain genetic factors.

In a second study, Dr. Mucci studied whether Vitamin D deficiency plays a role in conferring lethal prostate cancer risk. Vitamin D deficiency is a looming public health problem and is associated with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, infectious diseases, poor bone health and colon cancer. In this study she analyzed a patient cohort of ~1,800 prostate cancer cases and found that low levels of Vitamin D in the blood and low levels of the Vitamin D receptor (protein that binds Vitamin D in blood and sequesters it for cells) was strongly associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer specific death. These findings indicate that patients with prostate cancer may need to ensure that they maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D to help fight disease progression. Dr. Mucci is planning future studies to assess whether patients with Vitamin D receptor mutations (genetic alterations that impair function) are more susceptible to lethal prostate cancer. It will also be important to understand the precise mechanism of Vitamin D anti-cancer activity in prostate cancer to validate these findings.

Overall, Dr. Mucci’s Young Investigator award has accelerated her career development the last two years. PCF is proud to congratulate Dr. Mucci for her recent promotion to Associate Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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