Arul Chinnaiyan has been awarded the illustrious Sjöberg Prize for his groundbreaking discovery about the cause of prostate cancer.
The cause of prostate cancer had been a longstanding mystery, with scientists striving to understand why some men develop the disease and others do not. However, in 2005, a discovery achieved by Chinnaiyan helped to identify the enigmatic cause of prostate cancer, finding that many cases are triggered due to a fusion gene. This type of gene develops due to chromosomes breaking apart and two genes, or parts of them, joining in a novel pattern.
Anders Bergh, a prostate cancer researcher at Umeå University, said: “This fusion gene has been found in more than half of all cases of prostate cancer; it was also demonstrated that male sex hormones are a strong driver of the disease.”
Locating the fusion gene
Chinnaiyan made his discovery through utilising a significant technological advancement in genome research, creating a public database that he made available to the entire research community. Moreover, he innovated a bioinformatic method that enabled him to identify aberrant gene expression in prostate cancer, which led to the discovery of the fusion gene.
Chair of the Prize Committee, Bengt Westermark, commented: “This is a very important piece of the puzzle, which has improved our understanding of this form of cancer. The discovery may eventually also lead to improved treatment.”
Prostate cancer is the second most common form of cancer in men – after basal-cell cancer – in the western world and a range of countries and is the tumour disease that causes the most deaths among men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 13 in 100 men in the US will have prostate cancer in their lifetime, with two out of three men dying from the disease.
Improving patient outcomes
The discovery of the cause of prostate cancer has substantial potential for improving the survival and care of men with the disease. Pharmaceutical research is currently ongoing, and new diagnostic technologies have already been created, with markers for the fusion gene being identifiable through employing a simple urine test.
Chinnaiyan’s discovery has also been significant for understanding other cancers that develop in a similar way to prostate cancer and has been pivotal in the development of a new lung cancer treatment.
Chinnayan said that being awarded the Sjöberg Prize came as a pleasant surprise to him, especially due to the impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said: “It is a great honour to be selected for this award and to follow in the footsteps of the luminaries who have received it in the past. As this award recognises our discovery of recurrent gene fusions in prostate cancer, I plan to use this support to fund our efforts to directly and indirectly therapeutically target these and other cancer-causing transcription factors.”