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020436 Red Meat Gene Linked to Prostate Cancer

April 30, 2002

Washington - A gene involved in digesting red meat also is highly active in cells taken from prostate cancer tumors, a finding that could lead to new dietary and chemical treatments to prevent the disease, researchers said on Wednesday.

Cells removed from prostate tumors showed a nine-fold increase in activity by a gene called AMACR as compared to healthy cells, a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found.

The AMACR fatty acid molecule is found in high levels in dairy and beef products. The gene of the same name produces an enzyme that helps break down the fatty acid.

Previous studies have shown that diets high in red meat are linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

The researchers cautioned that it was too early to establish a link between eating beef and dairy products and prostate cancer, but said the findings offer a way for scientists to study the association.

"For years, many of us have believed that diet is somehow linked to prostate cancer, but we didn't have any molecular clues as to how this works," Dr. Angelo De Marzo, a cancer and urology specialist who co- authored the study with colleague William Isaacs, said in a telephone interview.

"This opens the question, is this gene (activated) because it is helping to drive prostate cancer growth?" he asked.

Writing in the journal Cancer Research, De Marzo and his colleagues said they studied more than 6,500 genes and found the AMACR gene active at unusually high levels in prostate cancer.

They later studied 168 prostate cancer tumors and found that 95 percent had high levels of activity by the gene, making it one of the main biological markers of the cancer.

De Marzo and Isaacs said the AMACR markers could be used to diagnose prostate cancer and reduce the number of needle biopsies that patients currently have to undergo.

A prostate biopsy involves inserting a needle via the rectum to get to the prostate. De Marzo estimated that as many as 15 percent of the procedures must be repeated.

It might be possible to use scans to look for AMACR gene activity, saving patients and doctors from an embarrassing and awkward procedure.

"It is a beautiful marker regardless of what role it is playing in the disease," said Isaacs.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer found in men, after lung cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 189,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 and 30,000 will die of it.


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