pientaKenneth J. Pienta, M.D.

Professor of Internal Medicine and of Urology

Director of Experimental Therapeutics, Michigan Center for Translational Pathology

Principal Investigator, Specialized Program of Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer

Prostate Cancer Metastasis and Therapeutic Strategies

Work in Kenneth Pienta’s laboratory focuses on understanding the biology of prostate cancer metastasis — how cancer cells interact with normal cells of the body as they develop a primary tumor and then spread to other sites in the body. He studies this interaction between the normal cells and the cancer cells using principles borrowed from the science of ecology, and believes that by thinking of tumors as ecosystems we can better understand how to treat cancer. His laboratory has especially focused on studying how cancer cells metastasize to bone and to target the resulting metastatic tumors for therapy.

A central question in cancer biology, diagnosis and treatment remains how cancers have the ability to invade and survive in the bone marrow. Pienta and his colleagues believe that metastatic prostate cancers behave like an invasive species attacking a new environment and target and compete with hematopoietic stem cells — cells that reside in bone marrow that make a person’s red and white blood cells — for space in the bone marrow where the hematopoietic cells normally reside. Disseminated tumor cells can hide in marrow for years — where they slowly proliferate — and where humans are slowly and secretly losing the cancer battle.

This is a powerful new observation that opens up entire new biologic questions in understanding cancer metastasis, suggests new diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers, and points to new targets for therapy - all actively being worked on in the laboratory.

 


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