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Indicator of prostate cancer detectable in urine

A potentially important indicator of prostate cancer progression and spread has been identified in urine. With further research, this potential biomarker — the molecule sarcosine — could make for easier and less invasive testing for this disease.

Arul Chinnaiyan of the University of Michigan Medical School, USA, and colleagues report in Nature this week that they identified the biomarker by profiling and comparing the metabolites present in the urine of prostate cancer patients and healthy individuals. They found that sarcosine — a derivative of the amino acid glycine — was present at higher levels in the urine of patients with aggressive prostate cancer. This is the first time a marker for prostate cancer has been detected in urine.

“These unbiased metabolomic profiles were able to distinguish benign prostate, clinically localized prostate cancer and metastatic disease,” write Chinnaiyan and colleagues.

The researchers also showed that simply adding sarcosine to cultures of benign prostate cells was enough to turn them into invasive cancer cells capable of spread, indicating that the molecule may have an important role in disease.

Arul and colleagues hope that their research findings could be used eventually to aid prostate cancer diagnosis and that it will provide new opportunities for therapeutic intervention.

Commenting in a related News and Views article, Cory Abate-Shen and Michael Shen of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, USA, note that further work may show that other metabolites are more suitable for screening tests, and it is not known whether these results apply to other tumors, but the approach of Chinnaiyan and colleagues has a promising future in aiding cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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