CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have found a way to control the growth and progression of the second most common cancer in men: prostate cancer.
According to a release, the researchers have decided to call this control method "HULLK" and they believe it could be used to target and stop the progression of a cancer that kills more than $30,000 American each year.
"We have uncovered a novel non-coding RNA that may drive prostate cancer," said Dan Gioeli, PhD, of UVA's Department of Microbiology, Immunology and the UVA Cancer Center. "This discovery could lead to new biomarkers of prostate cancer and more effective therapies for advanced prostate cancer."
The release says HULLK is a "noncoding" form of RNA, which means it isn't involved in coding proteins like most strands of RNA.
Researchers say it appears this particular piece of RNA controls the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Researchers have found more HULLK in tumor samples from patients who are dealing with advanced prostate cancer and that decreasing the level of HULLK in cultured prostate cancer cells slowed the growth of tumor cells.
The researchers say the production of this type of RNA is regulated by the male sex hormone known as androgens, which stimulate production.
Cells that produce too much HULLK, or those associated with the most aggressive cases of prostate cancer, were "hypersensitive" to androgen.
For a long time, early state prostate cancer has been treated with androgen deprivation therapy, where the levels of the hormone are reduced, but this type of therapy can side effects that some men do not want to experience.
The release says Gioeli's discovery identifies the RNA strand as a potential target for developing better treatments that may avoid the side effects.
The findings also could allow researchers to develop blood and urine tests to determine how aggressive a case of prostate cancer is before beginning treatment.
"There is still a lot of research to do on how HULLK functions in order to realize the potential of this discovery in the clinic," said Gioeli. "We are excited to do that research and translate our basic science discovery into the clinic."
The findings have been published in the scientific journal Molecular Cancer.