2016-06-ACWIS-enews

It’s a man’s world. Well, for June, at least, when it’s Men’s Health Month, which aims to heighten awareness of preventable problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease.

The wide-ranging research of the Weizmann Institute of Science covers multiple aspects of men’s health, including gender-specific cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, these are prostate, colon, lung, and skin – all of which are being actively studied at the Institute.

Self-awareness. Nutrition. Exercise. Prevention. Early detection. Tailored treatment. There are so many ways to help ensure the well-being of our fathers, brothers, husbands, friends. Read on for just a few examples of how Weizmann Institute science is benefitting men’s health.

Obliterating prostate tumors. Prostate cancer is the second most-common cancer in American men (lung cancer is the first), says the American Cancer Society; about 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed in their lifetime. ​And while prostate cancer is typically no longer fatal, early detection and intervention are crucial to ensuring a good outcome, as are treatments that don’t cause debilitating side effects, such as incontinence or sexual dysfunction, that can lead to lower quality of life. Just such a treatment has been developed based on decades of research at the Weizmann Institute by Profs. Yoram Salomon and Avigdor Scherz.

The treatment works by using fiber optics to light up a unique chlorophyll-based compound, TOOKAD® soluble, at the tumor site. This destroys surrounding blood vessels, basically starving the tumor to death – and leaving healthy tissue intact. The procedure can be performed quickly, on an outpatient basis, and has few, if any, side effects.

Clinical trials showed the TOOKAD technique to be so successful in treating early-stage prostate cancer that it was recently approved by Mexico’s health authority. It’s also in advanced trials in Europe, and extensive U.S. clinical trials are underway at Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. TOOKAD is now being studied for treating later-stage prostate cancer, as well as other solid tumors.

Early cancer detection. Prof. Hadassa Degani knows that spotting cancer quickly is critical, yet tumors aren't always easy to identify. So she developed a means of early cancer detection and diagnosis called three time point, or 3TP. Because it utilizes magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), 3TP means patients don’t have to undergo needle biopsies. 3TP was initially developed to diagnose breast cancer, and so needed to be adapted to the prostate – a very different body part – but Prof. Degani and her team were, after much research, able to determine the three optimal time points for obtaining the MRI images of the prostate gland. Before her breakthrough, the only way to definitively diagnose prostate cancer was to do biopsies on multiple tissue samples from up to eight different sites. In 2003, the FDA approved use of 3TP to detect prostate and breast cancer. Today, 3TP is used worldwide, and Prof. Degani is investigating even more refined methods of finding cancer early.

Reversing colon cancer. According to the CDC, colorectal cancer is the third most-common cancer in men. Fortunately, Weizmann Institute scientists have succeeded in reversing the metastatic properties of colon cancer cells in vitro. The findings by Prof. Avri Ben-Ze’ev and colleagues reveal a key process involved in the metastasis of colon cancer cells, raising hopes that drugs could be devised to prevent the cells’ invasive behavior – or even to ​force them to retreat.

Predicting lung cancer. Lung cancer kills more men in the U.S. each year than any other form of cancer, and 9 out of 10 of those deaths are due to smoking. Still, we’ve all heard about an octogenarian or even older person who credits their longevity to unfiltered cigarettes. Why do some smokers get cancer while others don’t? Weizmann’s Prof. Zvi Livneh pinpointed an enzyme, OGG1, that could answer that question. It plays a role in providing protection against lung cancer, and people with low levels of OGG1 are at much higher risk of developing the disease. Prof. Livneh and his team devised a simple blood test that can help assess a smoker’s lung cancer odds, making it easier to persuade high-risk smokers to kick the habit.

Women’s tears reduce testosterone. Prof. Noam Sobel has found that emotional signals are chemically encoded in tears, and that these chemicals are a turnoff for men: in fact, merely sniffing a woman’s tears – even when the crying woman is nowhere in the vicinity – causes a significant dip in testosterone and reduces sexual arousal in men. He and his team suspect that the testosterone-lowering effect might have a bright side: it could help treat prostate cancer.

Understanding male fertility. It was long thought that sperm find their way to the ovum by chance. However, Prof. Michael Eisenbach has shown that not only are sperm guided to their destination, they are directed by not one, but two, mechanisms: chemical and temperature gradients. Building on this work, Prof. Eisenbach recently discovered that sperm also make use of sensors called opsins: photoreceptors that respond to heat, thus helping the sperm find their way. Clinical applications of Prof. Eisenbach’s findings include potentially serving as a diagnostic tool for sperm quality and as a method for increasing the number of healthy sperm cells.  

Want to support the men in your life? A great way to do so is to support the Weizmann Institute scientists who are researching men’s health issues and finding ways to prevent illness, detect it early, and treat it more effectively if it does arise.