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Researcher makes significant progress in prostate cancer research

By Virginia Middleton | Jan. 18, 2013

Dr. Ken Kao and his team at Memorial University have made an important discovery that could lead to better detection and treatment methods for those diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The two-year research project is funded in part through the Research & Development Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador (RDC), a provincial Crown corporation.

“Our province continues to be a place where life science researchers like Dr. Kao can find the support they need to test and develop their research,” said Keith Hutchings, minister, Research & Development Corporation. “Although we have a long way to go towards finding a cure for prostate cancer, it should not be understated that an important discovery in the fight against this disease was made right here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

RDC provided $90,247 through its LeverageR&D Program to this project, with an additional $147,637 from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Genesis Group, Memorial University, and funds from the Motorcycle Ride for Dad -- Avalon Chapter administered through the H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation.

Dr. Kao is a professor of oncology in the Division of Biomedical Sciences in Memorial’s Faculty of Medicine. He and his team have discovered that the protein Pygopus is highly active and concentrated in prostate cancer cells. This discovery is important, as Pygopus is generally not found in normal prostate cells or benign tumours.

“We will be able to make significant progress with this research funding, which will build on our original findings,” said Dr. Kao. “Right now, when a diagnosis is made it’s often not known how the tumour will progress. By understanding how active and concentrated Pygopus is in prostate cancer cells, we can strengthen a diagnosis. We wouldn't have been able to come this far without the collaborative efforts of so many people here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Our efforts are getting us closer to not only improving the quality of life for the men and their families affected by this disease, but to hopefully finding a cure once and for all.”

According to the Canadian Cancer Society of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is estimated that 490 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer by the end of 2012. Across Canada, the number of new prostate cancer diagnoses was estimated to be over 26,500 by the end of 2012.

Laboratories traditionally use a handful of biomarkers to help identify and characterize cancer from patient samples, in order to determine the appropriate level of treatment. Dr. Kao believes that by using the Pygopus gene as an additional biomarker, it may be possible to gain a better understanding of where the tumour is in its development to help guide treatment options.

“The important work currently underway by Dr. Kao and his team should be commended,” said Glenn Janes, chief executive officer, RDC. “The life science research conducted here at Memorial University’s Terry Fox Cancer Research Laboratories is another example of how Newfoundland and Labrador continues to be a place where important medical discoveries and health management tools are studied.”