Discoveries magazine is scheduling checkups with some very important people at Cedars-Sinai: doctors, researchers, and patients. You might have read about them and their work in the past—now we’re checking back with them to get updates and progress notes, or find out about their new scientific projects.
Check Up with Michael Freeman, PhD, Cancer Biologist
Dr. Michael Freeman, director of the Cancer Biology Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, is helping lead a revolutionary approach to understanding cancer: Instead of just focusing on the “problem” cells in a tumor, scientists are casting a wider net and studying the environment well beyond the tumorous area (see Across The Expanding Universe, Summer 2012).
Cancer therapies have traditionally relied on targeting tumor cells or the mutated gene that turns a normal cell into a malignant one, then developing a treatment to destroy the cancer or prevent it from growing. But studying the area outside the tumor’s zone and understanding how tumor cells communicate with their microenvironment are yielding key information about cancer that may lead to more personalized treatments.
A recent Cedars-Sinai prostate cancer study based on this approach shows promising results. Increased levels of the protein Caveolin-1 (Cav-1) in a prostate tumor can signal tumor progression and treatment resistance. What emerged from this new study is that a reduced amount of Cav-1 outside the tumor also indicates tumor progression.
“This suggests that the cells surrounding a prostate tumor are as important as the tumor itself in helping understand the complexity of the disease,” says Dolores Di Vizio, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Urologic Oncology Research Program and senior investigator of the study, along with Dr. Freeman and post-doctoral fellows Matteo Morello, PhD, and Sungyong You, PhD.
These findings offer insights into disease progression and may help explain the body’s resistance to traditional treatments in some patients. Adds Di Vizio, “This early-stage research may provide a new, future marker that may ultimately aid diagnosis, and design personalized treatments for prostate cancer patients.”