US Department of Defense funds UIC research on prostate cancer

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Credit: UIC/Courtney Colvin

A new three-year grant totaling nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Defense will fund University of Illinois at Chicago research on the gene SELENOF and its role in the development of prostate cancer among black men.

White men accounted for about 106 new cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 men for the years 2011-2015. But among black men, nearly 179 per 100,000 were newly diagnosed with prostate cancer. A combination of genetics and environmental factors likely play a role in why black men experience a higher incidence of prostate cancer and have worse clinical outcomes, said UIC's Alan Diamond, who will lead the study.

"We believe that reduced levels of SELENOF contribute to the risk of experiencing and dying from prostate cancer and that the differences in the SELENOF gene between black and white men contribute to the increased risk in that population," said Diamond, professor of pathology in the UIC College of Medicine and member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

Diamond will ascertain whether the absence of the gene in the prostate reduces the time when prostate cancer appears, the frequency of the tumors, and their severity. The researchers will also study the mechanism by which reduced SELENOF levels contribute to a higher prostate cancer risk and poorer clinical outcomes. The experiments will be conducted in mouse models.

With the assistance of several researchers in UIC's pathology department, Diamond previously reviewed human clinical samples that revealed SELENOF levels were lower in cancer tissue, compared with benign tissue, in the prostate cancers of black men as opposed to white men. Diamond will expand his work studying the differences in levels of SELENOF between black and white men.

In 2015, there were an estimated 3.1 million men living with prostate cancer in the U.S., according to data from the National Cancer Institute. About 165,000 new prostate cancer cases are anticipated in 2018 and nearly 30,000 will die from the disease, accounting for about 5 percent of all cancer deaths, the NCI said.

"We anticipate that our results will identify factors contributing to the disparity in prostate cancer between African Americans and Caucasians and may lead to new biomarkers to identify those men at elevated risk," Diamond said. "Developing new interventions will reduce the high risk of contracting and dying from prostate cancer in men in the United States, particularly black men."

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