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June 25, 2010

U.S. Patent Office awards patent to ULM Pharmacology Professor

Dr. Girish Shah, holder of the Mary E. and Darrell L. Calhoun Chair in Pharmacology at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, is an expert in the study of prostate cancer who has spent years researching early detection of the potentially deadly disease.

His hard work has evidently paid off, since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently awarded Shah a patent for his invention of a biomarker for prostate cancer that may eventually become a new screening tool for physicians everywhere.

Shah said that for years physicians have screened male patients age 50 and above for the cancer by looking at the amount of prostate-specific antigens in the blood, also known as the PSA test. As PSA levels go up, the chance of having prostate cancer goes up.

But the PSA test has its limits, according to Shah. The American Cancer Society notes for example that one in nearly five men with a positive PSA will not actually have the cancer and conversely, levels could be lower even if cancer is present because of obesity, certain medications or other factors.

“In especially bad cases of cancer the PSA levels were not elevated following the test, because the cancer only later got suddenly very aggressive,” said Shah. “In addition, by the time the cancer is discovered it is often too late because it has spread beyond the prostate.”

Another difficulty is when the PSA test shows elevated levels and the patient undergoes a painful and expensive biopsy only to discover he does not have the cancer after all. In addition, the PSA requires a high quantity of blood be drawn to obtain an appropriate sample for testing.

Shah said he and his research team of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows at ULM have discovered what they believe to be a more accurate, less painful and much earlier route to the detection of prostate disease by studying the level of a particular protein secreted by the cancer.

The neuroendocrine-like marker serves as a high indicator of patients who are at risk for the disease. Using just one micro liter of blood serum, the marker has proven to be more reliable in patient populations diagnosed with prostate disease, whether cancerous or benign.

“This means we now have the potential at a much earlier stage to discriminate the cancerous patient from one who has a benign tumor,” said Shah.

The next phase of work involves testing the efficacy of the screening in higher risk populations, which includes men over 50 who have not been yet diagnosed with either cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia, but who may develop the disease in future.

Another effort is to discover how the cancer metastasizes and if early detection could mean earlier treatment to keep the cancer localized. Shah said he is taking up studies in different hospitals across the country to publish more about the research. His work is funded through a grant from the Louisiana Board of Innovation for promoting the business aspect of the research.
“This significant accomplishment underscores the contribution of the cancer research carried out in the College of Pharmacy to advances in cancer detection, treatment, and cure,” said Dr. Karen Briski, department head of basic pharmaceutical sciences at ULM.

“Dr. Shah and his research group have made a significant discovery that improves the detection of a very common cancer in males,” said Dr. Benny L. Blaylock, interim dean of the ULM College of Pharmacy.

“The ability of this new biomarker to more definitively detect prostatic cancer at earlier stages than the standard test available today is a major step forward in detection and successful treatment,” continued Blaylock. “The College of Pharmacy is very proud of Dr. Shah, his research team and the entire research faculty for the high quality, cutting-edge research being done.”

Shah received his pharmacy doctorate at the University of Bombay, India, and received his post-doctoral training at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden and at the Max Planck Research Unit for Reproductive Medicine in Muenster, Germany.

He has served on review panels of federal funding agencies and on the editorial board of scientific journals. He has authored over 80 original, peer-reviewed research articles, several book chapters and review articles, and mentored over thirty post-doctoral fellows, residents and graduate students.

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