Purdue Grad Student Researchers   (Source: Purdue University)
Discovery may lead to earlier detection and less false positives for prostate cancer

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer is one of the most important things that medical research investigates. A team of researchers lead by scientists from Purdue University has discovered a potential marker for prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the second largest cause of cancer related death in men after skin cancer. The team has used a new technique to create a profile of the lipids that are stored in prostate tissue. 

The technique has found that healthy prostate tissue lacks cholesterol sulfate and cancerous prostate tissue has a high percentage of cholesterol sulfate in the tissue of the prostate. Graham Cooks, the leader of the research team, said, "It was surprising to find a single compound that is distinctly present in cancerous tissue and not present in healthy tissue. We've been able to differentiate cancerous from healthy tissue using this new method in the past, but the difference was in the amounts of the same chemical compounds found in healthy tissue. There was no single differentiator of which one could say if it was present there was cancerous tissue."

The fact that the compound found by the research team is not present in normal prostate tissue and is in cancerous tissue makes it a potential marker for the disease. The screening procedures that look for prostate cancer today look for a substance called PSA (prostate-specific antigen) in the blood. The problem with screening for PSA is that there are conditions other than cancer that can cause an increase in the levels of PSA in the body.

Conditions such as an enlarged or inflamed prostate can also cause increases in PSA. The research team also had physician members from the Indiana School of Medicine. The physicians used mass spectrometry and a process developed by the Purdue researchers to measure and compare chemical characteristics of 68 samples of normal and cancerous prostate tissue. The technique developed by the researchers is known as DESI or desorption electrospray ionization.

The technique allows for mass spectrometry without the complex vacuum chamber set up required for ionization in traditional mass spectrometry usage. The DESI technique allows for the ionization of molecules outside of the mass spectrometer making the process faster and better suited to medical examination.

The researchers are continuing to study the chemistry of different types of prostate cancer tumors in an attempt to determine a method of telling which types of prostate tumors are aggressive and which are not. Aggressive tumors require treatments that are more vigorous while non-aggressive types may not need to be treated as aggressively letting the patient lead a more normal life. The research into the procedures and identification methods are ongoing.

The team is performing larger studies and investigating the biological processes that make cholesterol sulfate deposit into cancerous tissues.

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