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Newly discovered protein could help prostate cancer patients

Vanderbilt  University has teamed up with doctors in Canada to make what could be a life- saving discovery. There's a protein that changes form just before prostate cancer is about to spread.

Scientists like Andrew Zijlstra have spent countless hours peering through a micorscope and now he may have helped make a breakthrough discovery.

"What I am very excited about is we are talking about the behavior of cancer," said cancer biologist Andrew Zijlstra.

Vanderbilt researchers have been studying prostate cancer and what causes some cases to spread into the bones or lungs. Now they believe they've found the answer.

"This study really identifies when the cell acquires the ability to become mobile," Andrew said.

The protein is called cd151 and researchers says it changes form just before a cancer spreads.Many prostate cancer patients decide to undergo a possibly life-changing surgery but this discovery may allow doctors to suggest a different treatment.

"We want to treat patients, but at the same time we want to make sure that they can live a high quality of life, and surgery does not lead to a high quality of life," Ziglstra said.

Although this study was specifically related to prostate cancer, it could have applications for all types of cancer, giving doctors the ability to essentially see the future."

Early work on other types of tumors shows the same protein may act as a trigger to cancer progression.

"Our current effort is to see how broadly applicable can this be, and where can we really intervene," Ziglstra said.

Andrew Zijlstra and other researchers from Canada are publishing their findings. They now hope to develop a clinical test to identify the protein change. If successful it could give oncologists new information that saves lives.

"The important thing is that you recognize those patients before it has actually happened, because once it has happened it's too late to intervene."

A lot of excitement about this discovery tonight. Doctors may soon be able to tell you very early on if you will develop an aggressive form of cancer or if it will remain benign.