Chinese Medicine Times : Keeping You Informed

Chinese Medicine Times : Keeping You Informed

China on Front Lines of Fight Against Prostate Cancer

Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/03/08/china-on-front-lines-of-fight-against-prostate-cancer/?mod=google_news_blog

The Santa Monica, California-based Prostate Cancer Foundation wants to know why 17% of American males – black men in particular – seem to be at risk of developing prostate cancer, while the disease affects only 2% of rural Chinese men.

It’s the kind of question that has attracted nearly every major pharmaceutical company to open a China research center in recent years. While the medicine industry is drawn in a large part by the lower costs of doing scientific research in the country compared with the West, a deeper understanding of Asia-specific genetics is a key reason for the push into China research as well.

Cancer and cardiovascular diseases in particular are drawing research money, as drug makers examine how localizing research might pay off in treatments for one of the fastest-growing pharmaceutical markets. The work is drawing increasing respect: The U.S.-based National Foundation for Cancer Research recently selected two Chinese researchers to share an annual award for their work combining traditional Chinese medicine and Western techniques to treat a form of leukemia.

Now, the Prostate Cancer Foundation has dedicated a pool of money to encourage Chinese researchers to tackle questions that might lead to cancer-beating breakthroughs.

On Friday, the foundation is set to announce the first two China-based recipients of its Young Investigators Award. In place elsewhere already, the program aims to keep vibrant research into prostate cancer by granting money to researchers typically aged at 35 and younger who are focused on developing potential treatments.

The extension of the award program to China, in collaboration with local institutions including the Chinese Urological Association and funded with the help of a long-time foundation donor who wishes to remain anonymous, will initially provide three-year grants to two young doctors. It demonstrates, one official of the Prostate Cancer Foundation quipped, the "world-is-flat-for-cancer-research.”

Ren Shancheng, a 31-year-old doctor at Shanghai Changhai Hospital, will study what appears to be the lower frequency of an erroneous juxtaposition of genes in Chinese prostate cancer patients, a foundation statement said. Dr. Ren’s aim is to probe questions related to the fact that TMPRSS2-ERG gene fusions, a hallmark of prostate cancer, occur in only 15% to 20% of prostate cancer patients in China compared with more than 50% of Caucasian patients.

The second doctor, 36-year-old Zhang Yuxi, of First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang, will study prostate cancer-specific stem cells that lead to the development of disease progression and treatment-resistance, the statement said.

Prostate cancer, along with its treatments, can disrupt a man’s normal urinary, bowel and sexual functions.

An African-American man is 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer than a Caucasian, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. An Asian living in Asia is the least likely to get it.

Physical attributes might not be the only explanation.

The cancer is considered at least in part a lifestyle disease, as risks rise with fatty diets and little exercise. Low intake of vegetables and more smoking may contribute to more aggressive cases of prostate disease. Proof of that seems to be that as Chinese move into urban areas, and into a "Western lifestyle” according to the foundation, their risk of prostate cancer rises quickly.

Aging also greatly increases risk.

The foundation recognizes the economic advantages of fighting disease in China: An official cites data suggesting that the "buying power” of cancer research in China is twice that in the U.S. Consequently, the cash funding of the Young Investigator reward in China is exactly half of what the organization’s annual report (pdf) says is given on average to recipients.

Drs. Ren and Zhang will each be granted $37,500 annually for three years, or $112,500 per doctor. The Chinese Urological Association offers matching support, including research equipment and materials, which is similar to the way the program works elsewhere.

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