Institute gets grants to study prostate cancer; Dr. Saleem receives $380,000 for 2-year study related to African-Americans

Published 10:19 am Friday, September 11, 2015

Dr. Mohammad Saleem is featured in this July 2011 photo. Dr. Saleem received a $380,000 grant for two-year study related to African-Americans. -- Herald file photo

Dr. Mohammad Saleem is featured in this July 2011 photo. Dr. Saleem received a $380,000 grant for two-year study related to African-Americans. — Herald file photo

A Hormel Institute group will further study prostate cancer and its striking racial disparity, where African-American men at a higher risk of being diagnosed with and dying from the disease compared to other racial or ethnic groups.

A new federal grant awarded to The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota aims to make strides toward more effective ways to diagnosis and treat prostate cancer, particularly for African-American men.

The study will be led by The Hormel Institute’s Dr. Mohammad Saleem, (Bhat), leader of the Molecular Chemoprevention & Therapeutics section. The group will further investigate the ROBO1 gene — identified by Saleem and his team — as a potential biomarker for diagnosing prostate cancer — whether it’s aggressive or containable — and a target for treating the disease once it has metastasized or spread in the body.

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Under a two-year, $380,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute, Saleem will continue work on his team’s initial findings that the ROBO1 gene expression is significantly lost in prostate tumor cells and that the loss of ROBO1 causes these cancer cells to acquire an invasive trait that can spread to other body parts, including the bones.

While Caucasians showed similar ROBO1 levels in both organ-confined tumor as well as in metastatic tumor lesions, Saleem’s team found a significant difference in African-Americans, who were missing the ROBO1 gene when prostate cancer had spread in the body.

Saleem’s work on identifying ROBO1 and its tumor-suppressing qualities was published last December in the International Journal of Cancer.

“Our preliminary studies have shown that the presence or absence of ROBO1 gene could determine if a cancer cell in the prostate tissue has the potential of spreading to other parts of the body, ultimately causing a patient’s death,” Saleem said in a press release. “We greatly appreciate this vital funding from NCI to continue our important work to save lives.”

Failing to treat the metastatic spread of tumor cells in prostate cancer is a major cause for therapy failure and the high mortality rate in African-American patients, who are at 1.4 times higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and two to three times more likely to die from the disease compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

According to the National Cancer Institute, African-Americans might have a higher incidence of prostate cancer, in part, due to genetic factors as well as a lack of health insurance coverage and unequal access to health-care services, among other reasons.

The ROBO1 gene, Saleem said, potentially could serve as a biomarker that helps clinicians decide if a patient should undergo therapy and could be a drug target for treating metastatic prostate cancer in African-Americans.

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States after skin cancer and is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in men. The disease often does not have early symptoms and typically grows slowly, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Earlier this year, The Hormel Institute’s Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong established a special fund for donations to go specifically toward prostate cancer research. As with any gift to The Hormel Institute, 100 percent of each donation directly funds cancer research.