Eight months after receiving a federal grant to study how a current drug can be used to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the prostate, a Mid-South researcher is one step closer to a possible breakthrough.
The Department of Defense awarded $562,500 last September to Dr. Subhash Chauhan, PhD, a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, to research new therapies for advanced-stage prostate cancer.
The key to the study is to determine whether a drug called Ormeloxifene, a non-steroidal oral contraceptive, can be repurposed to inhibit the growth of advanced-prostate cells and to treat metastatic prostate cancer.
“Our goal is to inhibit the wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway so we can inhibit other downstream cancer-causing cellular pathways, block metastasis and stop the cancer from spreading,” Chauhan said. “Ormeloxifene is already in human use for a different purpose in 28 countries worldwide. If everything goes OK, then its translation to human use will be easy compared to a newly discovered treatment modality.”
According to Chauhan, Ormeloxifene, a birth control drug primarily used in India, suppresses cell proliferation in the uterus for fertilization. He suspects that the drug will inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the prostate.
“Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States,” Chauhan said. “Detection of the cancer is easy through existing diagnostic methods, but treatment is difficult.”
Current treatment for advanced-stage prostate cancer occurs either by surgically removing the tumor or through chemotherapy.
According to Chauhan, surgery does not guarantee that all of the cancer can be removed if it has spread to other parts of the body. In addition, he said, chemotherapy, although the most common method used to treat cancer, has not proven to be very successful for metastatic prostate cancer.
The study, which Chauhan labeled “A Novel Therapeutic Modality for Prostate Cancer,” focuses on the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer, which occurs when cells break away from the tumor in the prostate. The cancer cells can travel through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream to other areas of the body such as the bones, liver or lungs.
The American Cancer Society states that one in seven men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men before age 40, while six in 10 cases are diagnosed in men 65 and older. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 66.
Also, the American Cancer Society estimated that roughly 233,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year and 29,480 will die from it.
The grant, called the “Prostate Cancer Idea Development Award,” supports new ideas that represent innovative approaches to prostate cancer research and have the potential to make an important contribution to the field of prostate cancer research.
“The process is very competitive, and only 10 to 15 grants are awarded,” Chauhan said.
Chauhan and his team of four researchers must submit a progress report to the DOD at the end of every year over the three-year period as part of the grant’s funding requirements.
Testing for the study takes place on the University of Tennessee Health Science Center campus. Mice are injected with Ormeloxifene in a vivarium and monitored to see how the drug affects the cancer. If this proves to be successful, Chauhan and his team will try to procure funding to do additional testing once the initial study is complete
Chauhan is hopeful that Ormeloxifene will be the breakthrough needed in the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer.
“I suspect the drug will stop the cancer from growing and the results will be that the cancer will die easily,” Chauhan said. “If our findings prove to be successful, this drug could be in human hands in the next five to seven years.”
Chauhan received his doctorate in reproductive endocrinology from the Central Drug Research Institute in India. He has been an independent faculty professor for nine years at various medical institutions in the United States. He relocated to Memphis and began a stint at UTHSC two years ago.
“We have been very pleased with the results so far in our research,” Chauhan said. “There has been positive data and it shows promising results. We are very excited.”
RELATED LINKS: www.uthsc.edu/pharmacy/pharmsci