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USC Researchers Develop Method to Detect Genetic Mutations in Prostate Cancer

Photo: Mitchell Gross, M.D., Ph.D.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) in collaboration with Ortho-Clinical Diagnostics scientists, have discovered a way to detect genetic mutations in patients with advanced prostate cancer based on a blood test. They are hopeful that this method will lead to greater understanding of and better therapies for the disease and other cancers.

Mitchell Gross, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Medicine and Urology, and research director for the USC Westside Prostate Cancer Center, was the principal investigator for the study on “Detection of Androgen Receptor Mutations in Circulating Tumor Cells in Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer.” The paper appeared in the Sept. 1 issue of Clinical Chemistry.

“We took a commercially available technology, which uses a simple blood test to count circulating tumor cells [CTC] in different cancers,” said Gross. “From that we developed a new methodology to identify and study mutations in the androgen receptor [AR] gene that is associated with the development and progression of prostate cancer.”

The AR gene is one of the key targets in treating patients with prostate cancer.  Many prostate cancer patients are treated with therapies that lower male hormones (androgens) and stopping the disease.  In some cases, cancer can grow to become resistant to androgen-lowering therapies.   

“One way that cancer cells can continue to grow is to generate mutations in the AR gene,” said Gross, who directs many clinical trials for patients with prostate cancer.  “If we can understand the process by which this occurs, we can learn how to develop more effective treatments.”

The study used the CellSearch® Profile Kit, manufactured for research use by Veridex, LLC., to pull CTCs from the blood of patients in order to study the molecular makeup of AR gene mutations.

“In the future, we hope to use the technology to get real-time data on patients that will enable us to predict which therapies will work in individual cases, thereby personalizing and improving the care of patients with advanced prostate cancer,” Gross said.

“This approach to understanding CTCs and the mechanisms for tumor progression and metastasis in advanced prostate cancer may also help other researchers to understand other types of cancers,” he added.

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