January 8, 2015 | by Denise Heady
Explaining a prostate cancer diagnosis to a young child can be difficult — especially when the cancer is incurable. But conveying the need for prostate cancer research, as it turns out, is easily done. And that leads to action.
Earlier this year, Gerald Rustad, 71, who is living with a very aggressive form of metastatic prostate cancer, found himself trying to explain his heath condition to 10-year-old granddaughter Aurora.
He told her that his cancer couldn't be cured, but that scientists at City of Hope were busily conducting research so they could help patients like himself. His doctor, for example, Sumanta Pal, M.D., co-director of City of Hope’s Kidney Cancer Program, was working with other City of Hope researchers to develop a drug that could treat metastatic prostate cancer without targeting testosterone.
The targeting of testosterone is too arcane for most 10-year-olds, but the need for scientific answers isn't. Aurora asked if there were any way she could help.
Rustad explained that developing drugs to kill cancer is very expensive. The cost to try to develop one drug can easily cost $1 million, he told her.
Aurora was unfazed. She understood one thing: Action was needed.
She set to work creating a batch of her special handcrafted bracelets, which she promptly took to a local football game and sold. The grand total? $17.35.
Aurora passed her prostate cancer donation along to City of Hope, so her grandpa's doctor and other researchers could develop a drug to save him and others with metastatic disease.
The need for better treatments of metastatic prostate cancer is dire. When prostate cancer metastasizes, it is signaled to grow by a protein called the androgen receptor, which is activated by testosterone. Many men initially respond to hormone treatments that inhibit testosterone, but prostate cancer cells adapt and develop resistance to these therapies, and the cancer almost always returns.
The drug that Pal is helping develop, pyrvinium, inhibits the DNA binding domain – a different part of the androgen receptor that's activated when testosterone is blocked. It could prove effective when all other therapies have failed. Used for decades to treat pinworm infections, the drug now needs to be explored and researched for this newfound potential.
Jeremy Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of Molecular Pharmacology at City of Hope, is currently testing pyrvinium derivatives in cell cultures and mice, and his goal is to reach phase I clinical trial in the next two years.
Such work takes not only commitment, but funding, and no one knows better than a cancer researcher just how much every donation helps.
The gift and faith from his patient's granddaughter touched Pal. “It is incredible that someone so young could demonstrate such generosity, ” he said. “When Mr. Rustad handed me the donation from Aurora, it nearly brought tears to my eyes.”
Learn more about donating to City of Hope to support cancer research.