Understanding the Initiating Event in Prostate Cancer

Jeong Ho Ju, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow at Lombardi working at the forefront of understanding the molecular biology of prostate cancer. A significant portion of his research is focused on NKX3.1, a protein found only in the prostate and is important for preventing cancer from developing. Dr. Ju and his colleagues believe that it may be a target for future drug development. 

Cancer results from the accrual of mutations that are specific to different cancers and that must occur in an orderly fashion. The first mutation is the initiating event. 

NKX3.1 is called a tumor suppressor, because when it functions properly, it prevents a tumor from developing. However, when the gene is mutated, the cell becomes much more susceptible to other mutations. This means that a mutation in NKX3.1 may be the initiating event in the development of prostate cancer that allows the cascade of other mutations to occur. 

Dr. Ju along with colleagues at Howard University and the National Institutes of Health recently published a paper in the Journal of Molecular Biology that examines the way that NKX3.1 acts on the cell to prevent mutations from occurring. The data published in the paper show that he was able to isolate a single region of the protein which may be critical for the tumor suppression activity. 

Dr. Ju and his mentor expect this line of research to help identify ways in which the activity of the protein could be enhanced, to ensure it continues to suppress tumor growth. NKX3.1 is a gene whose disruption most likely precedes invasive cancer, but influences the activation of genes responsible for the transformation to being invasive. They believe this information could be used to develop preventive drugs or therapeutic drugs for prostate cancer.