Microscope image of cells.

These human prostate cancer metastatic lesions have been stained (brown) to indicate the presence of myosin IC isoform A, a biomarker of metastatic prostate cancer.

Researchers Unite to Detect Prostate Cancer Biomarker

Published May 20, 2019

Wilma A. Hofmann, PhD, associate professor of physiology and biophysics, is collaborating with Russian scientists to determine how a biomarker for metastatic prostate cancer might best be detected.

“The critical issue is to find a prostate cancer biomarker that is reliable and sensitive. ”
Associate professor of physiology and biophysics

International Research Partnership

Prostate cancer can grow slowly and pose little threat to patients, or it can metastasize quickly, causing severe pain and death. But as of now, it’s nearly impossible to determine which type of cancer a patient has during the early stages.

Prostate cancer is among the most common causes of cancer-related morbidity in industrialized countries.

Hofmann is being funded by a $380,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute as part of the U.S-Russia Bilateral Collaborative Research Partnership, a program that aims to foster partnerships at the basic science, translational and clinical levels by coordinating the two countries’ research funding.

Late last year, the two groups authored a paper in PeerJ that demonstrated how a biomarker called myosin IC isoform A might be used to identify metastatic prostate cancer.

Research Builds on Previous Biomarker Finds

Previously, UB researchers had proven that this biomarker — expressed only in metastatic prostate cancer cells — is necessary in order for cancer cells to metastasize, that is, invade other tissues. They also reported that it is secreted by prostate cancer cells, characteristics that make it a desirable biomarker.

“The big challenge in prostate cancer these days is to have a biomarker that will let the physician know whether to pursue watchful waiting because it’s not metastatic, or to recommend radical treatment in order to shrink the tumor because it is likely to become metastatic,” says Hofmann, a co-author of the PeerJ paper along with Ivan V. Maly, PhD, senior research scientist in physiology and biophysics.

“The critical issue is to find a prostate cancer biomarker that is reliable and sensitive, especially with low percentages of metastatic cancer cells, indicating the cancer progression is at an early stage,” Hofmann adds.

Proteins on Cancer Cells Being Analyzed

The current research involves studying metastatic prostate cancer tumors in mice that express myosin and non-metastatic tumors that don’t.

“The question is: Is there a time after the formation of a primary (non-metastatic tumor) when the cells start changing and become metastatic?” says Hofmann.

The research is focused on combining the analysis of different proteins that sit on the surface of cancer cells with cell internal metastatic markers.

Hofmann says that her Russian collaborators, led by Ivan A. Vorobyev, PhD, of Nazarbayev University and colleagues from Moscow State University, have developed a method that allows them to sort the cells in a prostate tumor.

“They will stain the cells’ surfaces, using a number of labeled antibodies, and sort the cells according to color,” she explains. “Then we will analyze the sorted cells for our biomarker. This combination of approaches is expected to lead to a more sensitive prognosis for the tumor metastasis, and may also clarify the cellular-level mech​anism that allows the marker protein to drive metastasis.”