A New Mechanism for Prostate Cancer Treatment

Chinese & English Text | Debby Seng
Photo | Editorial Board with some provided by the interviewee

Androgens play an essential role in the growth of prostate cancer cells, but the exact mechanism remains unclear. Prof Edwin Cheung Chong Wing’s team, in the Faculty of Health Sciences, was among the first to show how the androgen receptor (AR) regulates gene expression in the 3D structure of genome to mediate the development of prostate cancer. This important finding could potentially help prostate cancer treatment.

In cancer cells, androgens bind to AR, which acts as DNA‑binding transcription factors that regulate gene expression and ‘turn on genes’ to make prostate cancer cells grow and divide. ‘However, unlike in normal cells, cell growth in prostate cancer cells is not properly controlled. So, it is important to understand how gene expression works,’ Prof Cheung says.

Long‑range regulation of gene expression mediated by AR in prostate cancer cells

Prof Cheung has been working with researchers from the United States, Singapore, and mainland China, in order to find out how AR and genes come together to start gene expression in prostate cancer cells. In a recent research paper, they point out that in the 3D structure of genome, many AR binding sites are far from the genes, which means that AR could interact with distant genes. In fact, Prof Cheung’s team was among the first to provide strong evidence for this discovery, which has changed the scientific community’s understanding of this field of research.‘Besides, the role of long non‑coding RNA (lncRNA)in prostate cancer cells was unclear to researchers in the past. Following this research, we suggested that the lncRNA can potentially be recruited by AR to target genes during transcription, thus playing an indispensable role in gene expression,’ he says.

This picture shows how nuclear receptors regulate transcription in cancer cells

While there are existing drugs that treat prostate cancer by targeting AR, they may not be suitable for all patients, especially those with relapsed prostate cancer. Prof Cheung believes that only by better understanding the gene expression of prostate cancer cells will it be possible to find a suitable treatment for every patient. ‘Therefore, our next goal is to find out what other factors are involved in the gene expression of prostate cancer cells in order to improve the treatment of prostate cancer,’ says Prof Cheung.

ISSUE 22 | 2020

Also in this issue

Prof Edwin Cheung Chong Wing’s study focuses on intracellular hormone signalling and its relationship with cancer and other diseases. He was a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell University and a senior investigator at the Genome Institute of Singapore. He is a member of the editorial board of Molecular Cancer Research.