Key Piece to Prostate Cancer Puzzle Found
Finding Promises New Tests, Treatments for Prostate Cancer
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 11, 2009 -- An unexpected discovery has turned up a key piece to the
prostate cancer puzzle.
The finding comes from a powerful new science called metabolomics. Using
these new techniques, scientists discovered that urine levels of an obscure
amino acid derivative called sarcosine show whether a man has aggressive or
benign prostate cancer.
To the scientists' surprise, sarcosine wasn't just a harmless marker.
Benign prostate cancer cells exposed to sarcosine suddenly turn nasty,
becoming aggressive and invasive cancer cells. Aggressive prostate cancer cells
that can't get sarcosine are tamed, becoming much less invasive.
If confirmed and validated in larger studies, the findings have huge
implications for prostate cancer treatment, says study leader Arul M.
Chinnaiyan, MD, PhD. Chinnaiyan is professor of pathology and urology at
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
"We have tantalizing evidence that this sarcosine pathway may be
involved in the pathogenesis of prostate cancer," Chinnaiyan said at a news
conference. "Therapeutically, we could envision small molecules or
antibodies that might inhibit some of the pathway components that lead to
If the finding leads to new tests, it would have a huge impact on how
prostate cancer is treated, University of Michigan urologist John T. Wei said
at the news conference.
"One big clinical issue in prostate cancer is trying to distinguish
aggressive prostate cancer from the indolent version of the disease," he
said. "What we doctors end up doing is over-treating patients because we
can't distinguish aggressive from indolent disease."
The findings validate metabolomics and a brand new technology using
computer-driven robotic machines that can rapidly identify all the various
chemicals that build up inside the cells of the body.
This chemical buildup consists of metabolites -- the end products of the
vast number of biochemical reactions that take place within cells.
By comparing the metabolites from normal cells to those of indolent and
aggressive prostate cancer cells, Chinnaiyan and colleagues detected at least
10 metabolites that distinguish normal cells from cancer cells -- and which
increase or decrease in frequency as cancer cells get more aggressive.