Dr. Saleem receives $380,000 for 2-year study related to African-Americans

Dr. Mohammad Saleem (Bhat)

Prostate cancer exhibits the most striking racial disparity, with African-American men at a higher risk of being diagnosed with and dying from the disease compared to other racial or ethnic groups.

A new federal grant awarded to The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota aims to make strides toward more effective ways to diagnosis and treat prostate cancer, particularly for African-American men. The study led by The Hormel Institute’s Dr. Mohammad Saleem, (Bhat), leader of the Molecular Chemoprevention & Therapeutics section, will further investigate the ROBO1 gene – identified by Saleem and his team – as a potential biomarker for diagnosing prostate cancer (whether it’s aggressive or containable) and a target for treating the disease once it has metastasized or spread in the body.

Under a two-year, $380,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute, Saleem will continue work on his team’s initial findings that the ROBO1 gene expression is significantly lost in prostate tumor cells and that the loss of ROBO1 causes these cancer cells to acquire an invasive trait that can spread to other body parts, including the bones.

While Caucasians showed similar ROBO1 levels in both organ-confined tumor as well as in metastatic tumor lesions, Saleem’s team found a significant difference in African-Americans, who were missing the ROBO1 gene when prostate cancer had spread in the body.

Saleem’s work on identifying ROBO1 and its tumor-suppressing qualities was published last December in the International Journal of Cancer.

“Our preliminary studies have shown that the presence or absence of ROBO1 gene could determine if a cancer cell in the prostate tissue has the potential of spreading to other parts of the body, ultimately causing a patient’s death,” Saleem said. “We greatly appreciate this vital funding from NCI to continue our important work to save lives.”

Failing to treat the metastatic spread of tumor cells in prostate cancer is a major cause for therapy failure and the high mortality rate in African-American patients, who are at 1.4 times higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer and two to three times more likely to die from the disease compared to their Caucasian counterparts.

According to the National Cancer Institute, African-Americans might have a higher incidence of prostate cancer, in part, due to genetic factors as well as a lack of health insurance coverage and unequal access to health-care services, among other reasons.

The ROBO1 gene, Saleem said, potentially could serve as a biomarker that helps clinicians decide if a patient should undergo therapy and could be a drug target for treating metastatic prostate cancer in African-Americans.
Nationally, this month of September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the United States after skin cancer and is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in men. The disease often does not have early symptoms and typically grows slowly, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Earlier this year, The Hormel Institute’s Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong established a special fund for donations to go specifically toward prostate cancer research. As with any gift to The Hormel Institute, 100 percent of each donation directly funds cancer research.