LSU Health Shreveport scientists have discovered a promising new treatment for prostate cancer and developed a playbook detailing how to track viral variants in underserved areas.
The second-leading cause of death by cancer in American men, prostate cancer is projected to have nearly 300,000 new cases and over 30,000 related deaths in 2023, according to the American Cancer Society.
The standard course of treatment – androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT) – has proven to lose its effectiveness over time as the cancer becomes resistant and, in the worst case scenario, untreatable. A possible solution for that vexing health care challenge is being pioneered by LSU Health Shreveport Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology researchers Arrigo De Benedetti, Ph.D., and Siddhant Bhoir, Ph.D.
The two identified an essential component in the spread of tumor cells, an enzyme called tousled-like kinase 1, or TLK1, Bhoir and De Benedetti patented a molecule called J54 that prevents TLK1 from doing its job. The scientific basis for their medical innovation is detailed in “Targeting Prostate Cancer, the ‘Tousled Way,’” published in July 2023 in the International Journal of Molecular Science.
De Benedetti said pairing androgen-deprivation therapy with J54 is like stepping on a car’s brakes and the accelerator at the same time. Eventually, the engine breaks. The combination therapy forces the cancer cells to “essentially commit suicide,” De Benedetti said.
LSU Health Shreveport life sciences leaders are attempting to break new ground not only in the treatment of diseases, but in tracking the viruses that sometimes cause them.
Researchers from Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia collaborated on “Building a Collaborative and Equitable Viral Genomic Surveillance Program: A Playbook for Researchers, Clinicians, Administrators and Allies,” which provides a framework for establishing collaborative, community-centered infectious disease surveillance programs.
The researchers sought to refine and expand viral genomic surveillance methodology to ensure that historically marginalized groups – minorities and rural residents – are represented in community health data. The lack of this kind of program delayed the initial detection of SARS-CoV-2, allowing the virus to spread unfettered in the U.S. at the outset of the COVID pandemic and, over subsequent months, enabling undetected variants to emerge.
“Against this backdrop, long-standing social and racial inequities have contributed to a greater burden of cases and deaths among minority groups,” said Jeremy Kamil, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at LSU Health Shreveport. “We developed a new variant surveillance model geared toward building ‘next generation’ genome sequencing capacity at universities in or near rural areas and engaging the participation of their local communities.”
Rural and medically underserved communities often lack access to COVID-19 testing, resulting in uncounted cases and lack of community awareness about current health risks. In 2021, The Rockefeller Foundation awarded a grant to LSU Health Shreveport, Grambling State University and Louisiana Tech University to enhance, expand, and diversify regional SARS-CoV-2 surveillance efforts.
The playbook includes a suite of resources to support researchers and health officials committed to improving equity in genomic sequencing and global infectious disease surveillance. The results of the partnership are detailed in an article recently published in PLOS Global Public Health, “A collaborative approach to improve representation in viral genomic surveillance.”
“Publishing viral genomes gives the world an up-to-date read on how a virus is changing, and can help develop better tools to fight it and keep people healthy,” Kamil said. “That’s why genome sequencing should be available to every community, so that local health officials have the data necessary to make informed recommendations. We designed the playbook to help research teams across the country and the world build on our model and learn from our experiences.”