Science Research at Washington State University, Pullman has led to a new imaging technology for prostate cancer as well as several potential treatments. The technology uses a protein found only on the surface of prostate cancer cells called PSMA (Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen) as a target for compounds that can lead to easy detection of tumors or even destroy the tumors themselves.
The cancer research project was led by Cliff Berkman, a WSU chemist (image courtesy of WSU), and was made possible by Washington's Life Sciences Discovery Fund. The LSDF is designed to help scientists bring their ideas to commercial viability as soon as possible.
Berkman began his research by directly targeting the PSMA protein itself. The protein's function is to cut other proteins in the body by fitting them into a slot on its surface and clipping them off. Berkman thought that, since PSMA is unique to prostate cancer, inhibiting its function might slow the cancer's growth or even damage the cell itself.
His research successfully created several inhibitor compounds that would bind to PSMA without being cut. However, when the inhibitors were tested and successfully bonded to PSMA there was no effect whatsoever on the prostate cancer cells. Berkman said that at that point, "We almost canned the program."
Of course, it seemed a waste to throw away all these newly made inhibitor compounds. Berkman decided to use them as carriers for other compounds that can either mark the location of prostate cancer tumors or deliver therapies directly to the cell.
(model of PSMA protein courtesy of PDB on Wikipedia Commons)
Berkman's inhibitors can carry anything from a fluorescent dye to help surgeons see prostate tumors during surgery, to a variety of compounds that will show up on several imaging devices. Berkman's inhibitors constitute a powerful new prostate cancer imaging technology that is substantially faster than current techniques. While current screening methods can take up to three days, Berkman hopes that his inhibitor technique could return a diagnosis in only one hour.
Additionally, these inhibitors offer exciting possibilities for new treatments. While many cancer drugs and therapies can target both cancerous and healthy cells and produce harmful side-effects, this new technique only attacks the prostate cancer cells because PSMA is totally unique to those cells.
Berkman is currently working with several other WSU scientists to find new applications for this technology. He hopes to expand the capabilities of the inhibitor compounds, and possible develop new ones that will bond with other unique proteins associated with diseases such as breast cancer and heart disease. In the video below, he talks about his current research and his ideas for the future.
If you are a biomedical scientist, laboratory manager, or lab supply vendor in the Pullman area, plan on attending Biotechnology Calendar Inc.'s WSU BioResearch Product Faire trade show event at Washington State University, Pullman on October 25, 2011. Our trade shows are an excellent opportunity to meet and network with life science professionals and learn about the latest in laboratory technologies and supplies in your field.