March 31-April 6, 2000
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Jin-Tang Dong
Jin-Tang Dong

Researcher studies gene's role in prostate cancer

By Catherine Seigerman

A gene that could be key to controlling prostate cancer development and growth is being studied at the U.Va. Health System. Jin-Tang Dong, assistant professor of pathology, biochemistry and molecular genetics, has received $1.35 million from the National Cancer Institute to identify the gene and determine its role over the next five years.

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in men in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Most prostate cancer, however, is latent and does not become a problem during a manšs lifetime. A major challenge for urologists is how to distinguish the prostate cancers that are benign and can be left without treatment from those that are life-threatening and need immediate treatment.

Dong's research is targeting this important subject. Scientists know that gene mutations contribute to cancer development. In cancer cells, some genes are switched "on," or activated, and can cause tumor growth. Other genes -- called tumor suppressor genes -- are turned "off," or inactivated. The gene Dong is studying appears to suppress tumor growth when active.

In collaboration with Dr. Henry Frierson Jr., U.Va. professor of pathology, Dong will analyze prostate tumor cells from patients who have undergone surgery to remove prostate tumors. Some of these tumor cells appear to have lost the gene that suppresses their growth.

With the new funding, Dong's team will identify the precise location of the gene, which they know occupies a relatively small stretch of human DNA. They then will analyze its molecular structure and functions in both normal and cancer cells.

"It seems a subset of prostate tumors become malignant when the gene becomes inactive," Dong said. "We hope that someday physicians will be able to analyze this gene to diagnose malignant prostate cancers, and restore its ability to suppress tumor growth."


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