“Our preliminary studies make strong suggestions for a pathobiological involvement of nicotine exposure in prostate cancer aggressiveness and therapy resistance.”
By Lindsay Lyle
A grant from the U.S. Department of Defense will allow researchers at the University of South Alabama and USA Health to study how exposure to nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco products and cigarette substitutes, impacts prostate cancer progression and therapeutic outcome.
Ajay Singh, Ph.D., professor of pathology at the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine at USA, is the recipient of the $1,155,000 award and principal investigator of the project.
Tobacco use is the single most modifiable risk factor for many human diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States, including an estimated 41,000 deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke. This recognition has promoted the use of cigarette substitutes that contain nicotine to satiate addiction, while having reduced levels of other cancer-causing chemicals, Singh said.
“Doubts about this notion, however, have been raised; and it has been shown that nicotine can, in fact, affect several steps in the development of cancer,” said Singh, who also leads the cancer biology program at the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute. “Our preliminary studies make strong suggestions for a pathobiological involvement of nicotine exposure in prostate cancer aggressiveness and therapy resistance.”
Researchers will use the grant funds to tease out the underlying molecular mechanisms and gather pre-clinical and clinical support for their experimental findings. Additionally, the lab will collect prostate tumor tissues from patients who smoke and those who don’t smoke and study nicotine-induced changes in proteins of pathological relevance.
The use of nicotine-based cigarette substitutes has increased at an alarming rate among teenagers and young adults, putting them at serious risk of developing diseases such as prostate cancer. “Our findings may generate more awareness about these health harms and collectively, with other similar findings, may push for stronger regulations about the use of nicotine-containing products,” Singh said.
Sirin Saranyutanon, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the Basic Medical Sciences Graduate Program; Srijan Aacharya, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow; and Mohammad Aslam Khan, Ph.D., senior research associate, played significant roles in the development of initial supporting data for the grant. Aacharya and Khan will remain an important part of the research team, Singh said.
Additional collaborators on the project are Seema Singh, Ph.D., professor of pathology; Santanu Dasgupta, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology; Elliot Carter, M.D., professor of pathology; Christopher Keel, D.O., associate professor and interim chair of urology; and Madhuri Mulekar, Ph.D., professor and chair of mathematics and statistics.