Izabela Podgorski, Ph.D., researcher at Karmanos Cancer Inst

|Aug 14|magazine12 min read

DETROIT, Aug. 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Izabela Podgorski, Ph.D., co-leader of the Prostate Cancer Research Team at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and associate professor of Pharmacology at Wayne State University (WSU) School of Medicine has recently obtained a new five-year, $2,028,733 million RO1 grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute to continue her studies into the ways that prostate cancer cells are affected by bone marrow fat and how they adapt and survive in bone in an effort to identify new ways of treating metastatic prostate cancer. The grant number is CA251394-01. Dr. Podgorski was the first researcher to suggest a link between bone marrow fat cells (adipocytes) and metastatic prostate cancer in 2010.

Her new study hypothesizes that tumor cell and bone marrow adipocyte interactions enhance prostate cancer metastatic progression, while simultaneously reducing the tumor cells' response to current treatments.

"Bone by itself is a very harsh microenvironment that is difficult to treat," she said. "For a long time, people thought bone marrow fat cells were just energy storage units. We knew they were abundant in adult bones and that their numbers prematurely increased with obesity and metabolic diseases. But we had no idea what role, if any, they played in metastatic prostate cancer. In the past few years our studies, and others, began to reveal that when you have tumor cells in the bone marrow, they trigger some changes in the metabolism of adipocytes, and those changes ultimately help the tumor cells to survive and escape therapy."

Adipocytes are cells specialized for the storage of fat. Those cells expel lipids, which are fatty acids.

"Cancer cells take up those fatty acids and use them as energy," Dr. Podgorski said. "Tumor cells push the adipocytes to expel more lipids. They have this interactive relationship that supports (tumor) growth and promotes resistance to standard chemotherapy treatments, which includes docetaxel and cabazitaxel."

Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer typically have a five-year survival rate of close to 100 percent if the cancer is contained in the original site, according to Dr. Podgorski. But if it metastasizes, the cancer cells will often migrate to a portion of the axial skeleton such as the hip, pelvis or ribs. Metastatic prostate cancer cells could also target a visceral organ such as the liver or travel to the lymph nodes.

According to Dr. Podgorski, 85 to 90 percent of men with metastatic prostate cancer have bone metastases. This lowers a man's five-year survival rate to below 30 percent. If the tumor cells migrate to the bone and a visceral organ, it creates the most lethal scenario.

In Dr. Podgorski's research, she and the researchers in her lab have discovered that marrow fat cells can modify normal functions of metabolic enzymes (such as PKM2) or inflammatory molecules (such as interleukin 1B). This helps tumor cells grow more robust and resist therapeutic agents. With the latest RO1 grant, she and her colleagues are striving to demonstrate that inhibiting lipid release by adipocytes will improve therapy response and uncover new molecular targets for therapy.

They are utilizing a variety of different techniques to identify these new molecules. These methods include 3D culture techniques, patient samples, mouse models, models that mix both human and mouse samples, proteomics (the study of cellular proteins) and RNA sequencing approaches. They will use these approaches to study previously unexplored mechanisms that link bone marrow adipocytes with the survival of cancer cells that also resist standard therapy.

Given the research they have already established about bone marrow adiposity, Dr. Podgorski is confident that this will provide progress in the development of new prostate cancer therapies.

"I think we have a lot of tools to answer the questions we've asked," she said. "We already identified potential molecules to target, including PKM2 or interleukin 1B. Fat cells change the activity of these targets in the tumor to help it live. They also affect other processes, such as iron metabolism. The design of this study promises to show that lipids supplied by fat cells in the bone marrow are key contributors to chemoresistance. The study is also likely to identify new mechanistic targets for therapy."

We congratulate Dr. Podgorski and her Karmanos and WSU collaborators on the prestigious RO1 grant, including James Granneman, Ph.D., Maik Hüttemann, Ph.D., Paul Stemmer, Ph.D., Elisabeth Heath, M.D. and Dr. Seongho Kim, Ph.D.

About the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute 
Karmanos Cancer Institute is headquartered in Detroit, with 16 locations throughout Michigan. As part of McLaren, Karmanos is the largest cancer care and research network in the state. It is among the nation's best cancer centers as one of the National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States and the only one located in metro Detroit. Karmanos cancer experts focus solely on cancer to prevent, detect and treat as well as eradicate all forms of cancer. Its long-term partnership with the Wayne State University School of Medicine enhances the collaboration of critical research and academics related to cancer care. For more information, call 1-800-KARMANOS (800-527-6266) or visit www.karmanos.org. Follow Karmanos on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

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SOURCE Karmanos Cancer Institute