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From the Winter 2018 Quest
Current research shows bright promise for the future. ©David Taylor
An integral part of Dr. Catalona's research program is the esteemed Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Prostate Cancer. Three years ago, the Prostate SPORE at Northwestern University was awarded an $11 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Since receiving this award, Dr. Catalona and his colleagues have made significant progress towards their research goals.

SPORE grants provide funding for research projects that will result in novel approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment. The ultimate aim of SPORE projects is to translate scientific findings into better ways to care for patients in the clinic, so that people facing cancer can benefit from the results of the research.

The four major research projects in the SPORE address two critical issues in prostate cancer: identifying which patients need immediate treatment and which can be managed with active surveillance, and addressing the need for new treatments for men with advanced cancer that no longer respond to current therapy.

Dr. Catalona and John Witte, PhD (UCSF) co-lead a project that aims to find genetic factors that could distinguish which men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancers are more or less likely to “fail” active surveillance by discontinuing surveillance and undergoing definitive treatment for their disease, such as surgery or radiation. Typically, men make this choice due to more aggressive progression of their disease while on active surveillance.

To find these genetic links, the research team is undertaking the largest genetic association study to date of men with low-risk prostate cancer on active surveillance. More than 6,400 men are already participating. Genetic studies like this must have a large sample size to ensure the findings are statistically significant.

DNA from each participant is currently being genotyped in an NIH-funded research lab. Within the next few months, Dr. Catalona and Dr. Witte's research team will receive the genotype data, and then they will be able to search across the genome for genetic variants that occur in men who failed active surveillance. Once they identify these genetic variants, the team will be able to develop genetic prediction models that could help individual men determine if active surveillance or immediate treatment is the best approach.

The three other main projects included in the SPORE focus on three different drugs in development for the treatment of prostate cancer that continues to progress even after the patient has tried conventional treatment paths. The drugs each have specific targets within cancer cells, and they have all shown positive results in preclinical studies. Two of the drugs also show promise as immunotherapy agents, which will be explored further as part of SPORE research. Clinical trials for these projects are either open, in recruitment, or under review. The trials will provide vital data for determining if these drugs could be further examined in larger clinical trials, and possibly incorporated into new standards of care for men with advanced cancer.

Ultimately, the goal of SPORE research is to have a significant and positive impact on men with prostate cancer. The SPORE researchers are striving for concrete progress in this direction and are pleased with the results thus far. There are two years left in the funding cycle and their important work will continue.

The Prostate SPORE is a joint effort between Northwestern University's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, the University of Chicago, and NorthShore University Health System. Dr. Catalona is Principal Investigator of the Prostate SPORE. Dr. Walter Stadler at the University of Chicago is co-principal investigator. The SPORE has also established collaborations with several other institutions.

The Urological Research Foundation provides additional funding for
Dr. Catalona's SPORE project.