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1 March 2010
Experimental treatment hits the toughest prostate cancer cells
by George Atkinson

For more than fifty years, one of the main ways to treat men with prostate cancer has involved removing the hormones that fuel growth of the cancer cells. Although initially effective, this treatment inevitably fails and when the tumor growth resumes, the disease becomes incurable.

Now, a team of scientists from Monash University, Australia, has found a way to kill off those cancer cells that are resistant to androgen deprivation therapy. Appearing in the medical journal PNAS, the new work provides proof for the controversial concept that estrogens can be used therapeutically to treat prostate cancer.

"Most commonly cell death in patients with prostate cancer is achieved by withdrawing androgens (male hormones) which results in castration," said Monash's Gail Risbridger. "Although the bulk of the tumor is removed by castration, some cells remain and these castrate-resistant cells are the ones that give rise to recurrent incurable disease."

In the new research, the team used a drug developed to selectively and specifically activate the beta estrogen receptor in the prostate. "It not only inhibits the growth of prostate cancer but also kills off cancer cells that are resistant to conventional treatment such as androgen deprivation therapy and does so using a mechanism that is different to castration," Risbridger explained.

The team made the discovery in animal models, and then successfully replicated laboratory results using human cells and tissues from patients with prostate cancer. "[We] discovered how this compound working through the beta receptors targets a small, but very important, population of cells in the tumor. It is a significant piece of the puzzle that will help medical research in this field - an achievement that could eventually enhance treatment options for patients around the world with advanced prostate cancer," Risbridger said.

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Source: Monash University

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