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SUNY Upstate researcher is awarded $650,000 in grants to study prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis

A professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University has been awarded two grants to conduct basic research on prostate cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Arthur A. Hurwitz, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the Department of Urology, has received a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study why T cells cannot invade and kill prostate cancer tumors. Healthy T cells kill virally infected cells or help other cells of the immune system and have the potential to destroy tumors, too.

"There are certain properties of tumors that render T cells non-responsive and unable to destroy the tumors," Hurwitz said. "This research will enable us to better understand why T cells fail to do their job and what we need to do to make them respond to the cancerous tumor."

Such research, Hurwitz said, may provide the foundation on which to develop anti-prostate cancer immune-based therapies that may prove promising in the battle against prostate cancer. Previous studies by Hurwitz and his colleagues have led to Phase 1 clinical trials for prostate cancer and melanoma.

Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among American men.

T cells are also the focus of Hurwitz' research funded by a $300,000 National Multiple Sclerosis Society grant. Hurwitz will examine why T cells attack healthy tissues in the body, in this case cells that are found in the central nervous system, thereby leading to the autoimmune disease known as multiple sclerosis. As the immune system develops, T cells that could destroy healthy tissue are usually eliminated. But T cells that are not eliminated or inadvertantly become activated could result in autoimmunity.

"Here again, we are examining the role T cells play in the development of disease," Hurwitz said. "We need to define more clearly what regulates these T cells that attack and destroy the central nervous system."

Previous research has shown that some people with multiple sclerosis may have a mutation in one gene that regulates T cell activity and thereby permits autoimmunity to progress. "Modulation of CTLA-4, an inhibitory receptor on T cells, may play a role in the susceptibility to multiple sclerosis," Hurwitz said. "We hope to understand more fully how and why this happens. "

The study of T cells is vital in the pursuit of treatment therapies for sufferers of multiple sclerosis: Most drug treatments for multiple sclerosis stop T cells from becoming activated by suppressing the immune system.

Hurwitz' research has been published in numerous professional journals, including the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Current Opinions in Immunology.

Hurwitz resides in Manlius, N.Y.