Liu Runhua SQUARE400Among all racial groups, African American men have the highest rate of prostate cancer, and their cancers exhibit more aggressive biology, leading to higher rates of death. Although systemic treatments have been developed for this disease, these are primarily palliative and additional treatment strategies need to be developed.

Recently, Runhua Liu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Genetics, and her lab team have been focusing on developing new targeted therapeutics to improve the treatment of patients with advanced prostate cancer, including African American patients who have a particularly worse prognosis and whose tumors harbor more of an inflammatory and immune signature.

CD24, a cell-surface glycoprotein, is not expressed in normal prostate epithelial cells but is expressed in approximately 50% of prostate cancers and in 60-66% of African American prostate cancers. For humans and mice, CD24 expression is associated with prostate cancer metastasis, and for patients with prostate cancer, over-expression of CD24 is associated with tumor metastasis and poor prognosis. Notably, a CD24-p53 axis contributes to African American prostate cancer disparities. In addition, CD24 is the dominant innate immune checkpoint in human cancers and is a promising target for cancer immunotherapy. Thus, CD24 may have dual functions as a cell-intrinsic oncogene and an immune suppressor, and it is a potential therapeutic target for patients with metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancers.

Dr. Liu and team have proposed that targeting the CD24-p53 axis is an effective therapy for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer and have received R01 funding from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute to study this therapy. Their proposed work is expected to establish CD24 as a new therapeutic target and to demonstrate a new therapy that meets the needs of patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, especially in African American men.