The steady discovery of biomarkers have proven crucial in diagnosing a wide range of cancer types, as well as determining accurate prognoses. Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston have recently announced the identification of a key biomarker that they believe will aid significantly in prostate cancer prognosis, which in turn could lead to improved drug discovery and cancer prevention.
The Center for Cancer and Stem Cell Biology’s Dr. Leyuan Liu, Ph.D., served as lead author on the study, which is slated to appear in an upcoming edition of Cancer and is currently available online.
The revelations from the study came about from researchers’ efforts to better understand the concept of autophagy, or controlled self-digestion in cells, “which is the process of packaging and transporting cellular wastes to furnace-like organelles called ‘lysosomes’ that then degrade and recycle the wastes.” Studies into autophagy are a particular focus for cancer research at the moment — BioNews Texas reported on other Texas-based autophagy studies recently, such as the work that BCM researchers have done to pinpoint two innate immune functions that cooperate to fight infection flaws. TAMU researchers’ recent efforts have revealed how the autophagy process results in the accumulation of cellular wastes, with the resulting imbalance eventually leading to the formation of tumors. The findings build on previous studies that Dr. Liu was involved in, wherein he and other researchers found that “a protein known as LRPPRC (leucine–rich pentatricopeptide repeat motif–containing protein) acts to suppress autophagy and maintain activity of mitochondria, the organelle that generates energy for human life.”
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The new study, which is based on processed data of prostate cancer patients over a 10-year period, reveals “a positive correlation between LRPPRC protein levels and tumor grade, cancer stage and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, as well as a negative correlation with response to hormone therapy treatment and overall survival.” Liu elaborated on the significance of the findings, stating: “Tumor cells carrying higher levels of LRPPRC will have lower levels of autophagy activity, and thus cellular wastes will not be cleaned out efficiently. Those tumor cells will become genetically variable and more malignant in nature – resulting in a poor prognosis. In essence, if you carry low levels of LRPPRC protein in your prostate tumors, you will survive longer than those carrying high levels of LRPPRC.”
The study has led to the use of LRPPRC protein levels as a biomarker for prostate cancer, and has also established LRPPRC-regulated autophagy as a new target for anti-cancer drug discovery and cancer prevention.
“Ultimately, our research aims to develop a treatment to reduce the LRPPRC levels and release its suppression on autophagy, making it possible for patients with prostate cancer to live longer,” Liu said.
TAMHSC-Institute of Biosciences and Technology contributors include Xianhan Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., Jing Zou, M.D., Fen Wang, Ph.D., professor and director of the institute’s Center for Cancer and Stem Cell Biology, and graduate students Fei Yue, and Pan You, Ph.D. Several international partners from hospitals and universities in Guangzhou, China also contributed. The research is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health.