Why are African-American men twice as likely to die from prostate cancer?

Some races and ethnicities are more likely to develop certain diseases than others. In the case of prostate cancer, African-American men are not only more likely to develop the disease, they are twice as likely to die from it. Dr. Anthony Williams wants to understand why, and is researching the molecular mechanisms at work that make African-American men particularly susceptible and treatment-resistant to the disease. View Halo Profile >>

Tell me about your research…

We’ve known since the 1940’s that Androgen Deprivation Therapy (depletion of male sex hormones through chemical or surgical means) is a critical tool in the fight against prostate cancer. While initially effective, many men will eventually develop resistance to this therapy and progress to castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), the lethal form of the disease. Unfortunately, current treatments for CRPC are palliative rather than curative.

Importantly, African-American men exhibit higher incidence of prostate cancer diagnoses, worse overall survival, and are at higher risk of developing CRPC as compared to other racial and ethnic counterparts. My research explores the role of transcription factors and their involvement in genomic and transcriptomic reprogramming as a mechanism driving distinct prostate cancer biology and behavior between African-American and Caucasian men.

Importantly, African-American men exhibit higher incidence of prostate cancer diagnoses, worse overall survival, and are at higher risk of developing CRPC as compared to other racial and ethnic counterparts

Can you explain that to a non-scientist?

Simply said, transcription factors are proteins that interact with DNA to control what genes should be upregulated or repressed at any given time. Transcription factors accomplish this gene expression programming feat in several ways, including recruitment of other proteins that upregulate or downregulate gene expression, and by causing changes in the DNA structure that make it more “relaxed” to permit gene expression or more “compressed” to restrict gene expression.

Often times in cancer, aberrant transcription factor activity causes cells to lose control of gene expression programming, resulting in the development of a tumor. My work is focused on understanding differential transcription factor biology between African-American and Caucasian men, and how these differences contribute to disparate prostate cancer aggressiveness.

My work is focused on understanding differential transcription factor biology between African-American and Caucasian men, and how these differences contribute to disparate prostate cancer aggressiveness.

How could it someday impact patient lives?

This is an endeavor of high significance and impact; if successful, my studies will lead to the identification of bona fide biomarkers useful in directing more efficient clinical decision making and to the discovery of new therapeutic targets that improve individualized prostate cancer patient management, particularly for African-American men.