The Guessing Game

Predicting whether a prostate tumor will remain indolent or turn lethal is currently an uncertain proposition. The most commonly used prognostic marker, the Gleason score, is accurate only about 70 percent of the time. Leland W. K. Chung, PhD, and his team at the Louis Warschaw Prostate Cancer Center are looking at this issue in much finer detail and have developed a new method that could ultimately enable better-informed treatment decisions.

The laboratory is testing specific proteins or molecules, known as biomarkers, for their role in pathways discovered by the laboratory to promote distant cell proliferation, or metastasis. The method employs a first-of-its-kind instrument that detects multiple markers at the level of a single cell in a tissue sample, using powerful image software. A fluorescent nanoparticle allows researchers to tag and simultaneously follow the plight of specific biomarkers. “It is improving our understanding of the biochemical and molecular properties of the cancer cells,” explains Haiyen E. Zhau, PhD, who is spearheading the initiative.

In collaboration with the Cedars-Sinai Pathology Department, which is under the leadership of world-renowned prostate pathologist Mahul Amin, MD, Dr. Zhau and her colleagues are studying archived tissue specimens from prostate cancer patients to test whether the specimens can accurately predict which tumor would turn out to be the most virulent.