Grant to support research of deadliest form of prostate cancer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. —A University of Florida researcher has received a five-year, $1.7 million grant to study when, how and why prostate cancer, which physicians consider highly curable, sometimes spreads, and to develop treatment options for this uncommon but life-threatening occurrence.

The most common non-skin cancer afflicting men in the United States, prostate cancer claims the lives of 28,000 men annually in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The majority of prostate cancer patients who have an increased risk of dying have an advanced form of the disease and develop distant skeletal metastases. Metastasis occurs when cancer cells spread from the original site to other places in the body; in prostate cancer patients, bone metastasis can result in devastating skeletal-related complications and high mortality.

“Most cancer deaths result from metastasis,” said principal investigator Dietmar Siemann, Ph.D., associate chair and the John P. Cofrin professor in radiation therapy in the department of radiation oncology in the UF College of Medicine. “We’re trying to understand what causes cancer cells to spread from primary tumors to distant sites.”

Siemann and co-investigator Yao Dai, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology, are particularly interested in the role hypoxia plays in the development of metastasis in prostate cancer patients. Hypoxia, a condition in which regions of the cancer are deprived of oxygen, commonly occurs in solid tumors because the blood vessels that supply the cancer with nutrients are inadequate. Hypoxia in tumors has been linked to enhanced tumor cell spread and poor patient outcomes.

The researchers hope to gain a better understanding of how hypoxia enhances the cellular processes that lead to metastasis, as well as to examine the relationship between hypoxia and certain biomarkers that appear in prostate cancer.

“Our study will provide insights that will increase our ability to identify risk factors associated with metastasis and offer the possibility of developing selective anti-metastasis therapies,” said Siemann.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute supports the study under award number 1R01CA197477-01A1.