SBP Pathways Winter 2016

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The Patient-Scientist Dr. Nicholas Cosford fights cancer personally and professionally

FACTS ABOUT PROSTATE CANCER • 1 of 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetimes. early 3 million men are • N living with prostate cancer in the U.S. • I n the U.S., more than 25,000 men will die from prostate cancer in 2016 rostate cancer is the • P second-leading cause of male cancer death behind lung cancer. Source: American Cancer Society

Nicholas Cosford, Ph.D., researches prostate cancer—while he experiences it. “Yes, I’ve got a real connection to cancer and cancer patients,” he says. “When you go for radiation treatment 39 straight days, you talk to a lot of cancer patients and become part of a unique community.” Cosford, a professor and associate director of Translational Research in our NCI-designated Cancer Center, was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009 and treated with surgery. “I was fortunate,” he says. “Although screening for prostate cancer generally begins at age 50, my primary physician began monitoring my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) levels at age 40. I was 46 when the cancer was found.” The PSA test measures blood levels of a protein produced by the prostate. In general, the higher a man’s PSA level, the more likely it is that he has prostate cancer. After the surgery, Cosford was essentially cancer-free, until he wasn’t. “Earlier this year, they saw a slight increase in my PSA, which meant that the cancer was still present.” Radiation targeted the areas immediately adjacent to where the tumor had been. “The treatments are incredibly precise,” he explains, “and I experienced few side effects, other than fatigu .” A FAMILY AFFAIR Two rounds with cancer haven’t dampened his active lifestyle. He and his wife, Rebecca, an analytical chemist, and their two teens are avid hikers and campers. Since 2009, the family has backpacked 800 miles, climbed Mt. Whitney and rafted whitewater rivers. Cosford says their adventures have created strong, resilient human beings. “My family adventures have occasionally left us in some precarious situations.

Nicholas Cosford, Ph.D.

When you’re somewhere that you can’t be rescued,” he says, “you have to rely on yourself—and if you’re lucky, you have a team. In my personal life my family is my team, but as I work to confront cancer on a professional level, I rely on my research team.” A commitment to teamwork and a real understanding of what cancer patients experience make Nicholas Cosford a particularly tenacious researcher. His lab is targeting autophagy, a cellular process of degrading old, damaged cell membranes and proteins that tumor cells use to generate nutrients to grow and survive. “Cancer cells are on a mission to proliferate rapidly, and that takes energy,” says Cosford. “By blocking autophagy with inhibitors, we can promote tumor cell death. There are a number of autophagy inhibitors in preclinical and ongoing clinical studies, and we are looking at these types of drugs to enhance chemosensitivity and tumor regression.”

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