Bad football analogies and prostate cancer news releases


According to a media release issued today by the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), “Scientists have identified what may be the Peyton Manning of prostate cancer. It’s a protein that’s essential for the disease to execute its game plan.”

Peyton Manning is a great quarterback … and offers his fans great entertainment. While many of us may hope that he has fully recovered from his prior injuries and will once again be able to demonstrate his complete set of skills as a master controller of the gridiron with the start of the National Football League’s season in September, any comparison of those skills to the activities of a protein called paxillin is premature — and debatable at best.

The URMC media release describes work published by Sen et al. in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. According to the original article, paxillin appears to be necessary for the normal growth of human prostate cancer cell xenografts. It may also be necessary to the metastasis of prostate cancer in man. (This has yet to be proven.) It is therefore a potential biomarker for the spread of prostate cancer in man and a possible therapeutic target for the treatment of progressive forms of prostate cancer. In other words, if we could control the expression of paxillin in men with prostate cancer we might be able to better control the spread of the disease.

It will be immediately apparent to any football fan that most opposing teams have failed miserably at controlling Peyton Manning over the years!

Alas, the media release also quotes a senior author of the paper as follows: “The holy grail in prostate cancer is to figure out why cells stop responding to hormone therapy.”

Well … not exactly … The holy grail in prostate cancer would be to find a way to stop the progression of prostate cancer long before hormone therapy was ever required — and with none of the deleterious effects on sexual function (and other side effects) inherent to the use of hormone therapy!

However, if we can find a way to stop the effects of paxillin such that hormone therapy worked for longer in the men with the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer, that would certainly be a step along the path toward a cure. In the meantime, let’s try to keep bad football analogies out of the prostate cancer news.

Tertiary care centers like URMC really ought to want to put their scientific findings on a slightly higher plane than the gridiron. This sort of breathless hype about an interesting scientific finding is the exact reverse of the debacle at Penn State. At Penn State the football program supposedly became more important than the education of 99.5 percent of those attending the university; it appears that at URMC the research findings of the faculty now have to be explained in language that might (perhaps, but not probably) be comprehensible to the 0.5 percent of those attending the university that are actively involved on the gridiron!

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