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University Of Pittsburgh Medical Center And UPCI Announce Major Prostate Cancer Initiative

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PITTSBURGH, October 26, 1999 — Leaders at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) today announced a sweeping initiative against prostate cancer, which this year will strike more than 179,000 men and cause about 37,000 deaths nationwide. The initiative includes the appointment of a nationally recognized surgeon and new medical therapies.

Leading clinical activities will be newly appointed Joel Nelson, M.D., and Donald Trump, M.D., who has been with UPCI since 1992. Dr. Nelson, recently recruited from Johns Hopkins University, is one of the country’s leaders in performing sophisticated surgery for prostate cancer.

Dr. Nelson has significant experience performing nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy, the operation to remove a cancerous prostate while preserving a man’s potency. He has performed more than 100 of these operations in his former position at Johns Hopkins, where this procedure was developed and refined. Dr. Nelson is the only Pittsburgh-area urologic surgeon who comes from Hopkins, where the surgeons are national leaders in successful patient outcomes.

"Nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy is the gold standard for localized prostate cancer against which all other treatments are judged," remarked Dr. Nelson, who serves as new co-director of UPCI’s Comprehensive Prostate and Urologic Cancer Center. "Unfortunately, many men with prostate cancer are afraid of therapy, and it’s important for them to know that this technique significantly reduces the risk of side effects seen with other treatments."

In addition, UPCI is substantially expanding its scope of new clinical studies for patients with more advanced disease.

These activities are all part of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s expansion of cancer treatment services. Patients will be seen at the Hillman Cancer Center, where they will receive high quality and innovative care by a multi-disciplinary team of specialists. In addition, by this coming spring, UPCI Shadyside will house approximately 7,000-square-feet of space devoted to research on prostate and urologic cancers.

"These initiatives, combined with existing services, place us among the elite programs in the country for managing a disease that stirs the same fear in men that breast cancer creates in women," said Jeffrey Romoff, president of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "At the regional level, we are unrivaled in the extent of research conducted on prostate cancer and the innovative therapies we offer patients. We must remember that in Pennsylvania this year alone, almost 8,000 men will develop prostate cancer."

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

"When a man concerned about prostate cancer comes to UPCI, he can feel assured that he will be evaluated by specialists working as a team to provide individualized care based on the latest science," stated Ronald Herberman, M.D., director of UPCI and associate vice chancellor for research, Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh. "Many of our treatments for prostate cancer are not available elsewhere in the region."

Key to launching this initiative is Dr. Nelson, who will serve as chairman of the newly created department of urology at the school of medicine. In commenting on this appointment, Arthur Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, Health Sciences, and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, stated, "Dr. Nelson’s arrival and the creation of a new department of urology in the school of medicine underscores our commitment to men’s health issues. This new department will focus not only on the study and treatment of prostate cancer but also on the many other urological problems associated with disease, continence and potency."

Dr. Nelson will spearhead the surgical management of patients with prostate cancer, in addition to pursuing research aimed at understanding the biology of prostate cancer and translating these findings into more effective therapies. While at Hopkins, Dr. Nelson discovered the role of the protein endothelin-1 in advanced prostate cancer. In less than five years, he developed a promising therapy based on this finding.

"It’s an honor to join the established team of investigators and clinicians at UPCI," said Dr. Nelson.

"UPCI’s new leadership in prostate and other urologic cancers and its central role in developing and refining improved surgical and radiation therapies will allow men with localized disease to feel more confident that treatment-associated impotence and incontinence can be minimized," said Dr. Trump, who is deputy director for clinical oncology at UPCI and co-director of UPCI’s Comprehensive Prostate and Urologic Cancer Center. "The majority of men we see with localized prostate cancer are curable using these options."

"Unfortunately, at the time of diagnosis, some men with prostate cancer have disease that has spread outside the prostate. Traditional medications counteract hormones that drive the growth of metastatic prostate cancer, but with time, most cancers become resistant to these therapies," stated Dr. Trump. "For this reason, UPCI has placed a special emphasis on developing and implementing new studies for men with metastatic disease. Regionally, these studies are available only at UPCI."

Current studies include:

  • A vitamin D-like compound to treat early disease recurrence.

  • A vitamin A derivative to "normalize" prostate cancer cells in advanced disease.

Vitamin D-like compounds with chemotherapy and agents that inhibit the growth of new blood vessels, which nourish tumors and allow them to spread. This therapy, developed by UPCI researchers, is for advanced disease.

Studies slated to begin within a year and developed by UPCI investigators:

  • Endothelin-1-based therapy for advanced cancer.

  • An agent that kills cancer cells by derailing the effects of a cancer-causing gene. This therapy is for advanced disease.

  • Patient-isolated immune cells for advanced cancer.

  • A promising vaccine for advanced cancer.

UPCI currently has more than $2.5 million in funding for prostate cancer studies from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society, CaPCURE Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation and other sources.

In recently renewing its five-year funding of UPCI’s cancer center support grant, NCI gave its enthusiastic support of the prostate cancer program for its important, well-established status. Ranked 12th in NCI funding and the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania, UPCI is widely recognized as a leader in translating laboratory findings into applications of potential clinical importance and for its commitment to developing new and effective approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

For more information about UPCI, please visit UPMC Cancer Center.