Grants - V Scholar Grants - California - 2016

Yanzhong Yang, M.D., Ph.D.

Prostate cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide. In the US,
more than 230,000 cases are diagnosed yearly, affecting 1 in 7 men. If detected early,
the cure rate for these cancers is high – nearly all patients will be disease-free after five
years. However, in patients whose cancers either re-appear after treatment or spread to
other organs, therapies are limited mainly to symptomatic relief. Patients diagnosed at
this stage usually live no longer than 20 months. Therefore, a major challenge in treating
advanced prostate cancer is that the standard therapies, including radiation and
medicine, are not effective in killing these cancer cells.

A small proportion of tumor cells, known as cancer stem cells (CSCs), is particularly
important in promoting cancer, because they 1) can give rise to an entire tumor from a
single cell, and 2) are more resistant to treatment than other tumor cells. Efforts to
identify and then kill CSCs hold the key to effective prostate cancer treatment. The goal
of our work is to define the molecular mechanisms that drive growth of prostate cancer
CSCs. Once identified, those factors could serve as “biomarkers” or diagnostics. In
addition, drugs could be designed to target those factors as a way of blocking tumor
growth.