DoD grant to fund prostate cancer bone metastases research

Weill Cornell Medicine received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program to develop new approaches for predicting the spread of cancer cells to the bone in men with prostate cancer, using tumor samples taken at early stages of the disease.

“Metastases, especially to the bone, is the leading cause of death in men who have prostate cancer,” said principal investigator Mohamed Omar, assistant professor of research in pathology and laboratory medicine, division of computational and systems pathology, and a member of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. “It’s also associated with very high risk of skeletal fractures, severe pain and poor quality of life.”

The American Cancer Society projects about 35,250 deaths from prostate cancer in the United States in 2024. Predicting which patients will develop bone metastases from their initial diagnosis of prostate cancer would be valuable in personalizing treatment plans – more aggressive therapy for higher risk patients and those who are at low risk of metastases could avoid unnecessary treatment.

Omar and his research team will work with multiple mouse models of prostate cancer to assess the molecular profiles and spatial arrangement of cells in the tumor and bone microenvironments. They will also study the size, shape and structure of these cells to determine how the cells interact with each other in the tumor microenvironment and with the surrounding healthy tissue.

The researchers also will study molecular activity in individual cells, which involves identifying the gene expression profiles, gene regulatory networks and proteins produced by spreading cancer cells that help them travel to distant bone sites and form new tumors.

“Looking at all of these factors combined will help us to capture the complexity of the tumor and when cancer cells might spread to the bone,” Omar said.

The patterns they discover will be validated in human prostate cancer samples. In addition, they will look for other human-specific indicators of bone metastases.

Ultimately, Omar and his colleagues will develop an artificial intelligence system that can predict the risk of bone metastasis by integrating these molecular and spatial patterns with images from patient tumor biopsies.

Though this type of predictive system will take several years to develop and validate in patients, Omar said, this research is designed to produce important insights that could be applied in the interim.

Said Omar: “Our work identifying human-specific biomarkers of bone metastasis, for instance, could suggest novel therapeutic targets for drug development and could be used to improve the response rates to existing drugs.”

Heather Lindsey is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.

Media Contact

Eliza Powell