They are relatively few, but the men and women of the UC Davis urology department have created a research powerhouse. Their cutting-edge work, especially in prostate cancer, is leading the way toward better therapies – and outcomes for patients.
A recent analysis of National Institutes of Health funding for schools of medicine found that the UC Davis urology department was ranked third among all urology departments in the nation, with nearly $4 million in research grants in 2008.
Major research commitments bolster UC Davis' comprehensive clinical approach to prostate cancer, said Christopher Evans, professor and chair of urology.
"Patients not only have the opportunity to get into clinical trials, but we as clinicians have an insight from our molecular research to help understand what is going on in patients," he says. "We aren't just treating the cancer, we are treating the disease process."
The NIH research data, compiled by the nonprofit Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research, found that UC Davis has the only urology department in the nation to rank among the top three institutions receiving NIH funding the past three years.
Evans noted that the other top-funded urology departments are much larger than UC Davis' department, and that of the eight urology faculty members at UC Davis, four have funding for basic science research. "That is unparalleled," he says.
Evans points to Ralph deVere White, cancer center director, as the architect of UC Davis' strong urology research team.
"Ralph put prostate cancer investigators together with the goal of translational research," Evans says. "This has facilitated many new projects throughout the UC Davis community."
The major theme of the UC Davis prostate cancer program is the role of the male hormone androgen and androgen receptors in prostate cancer. In early stages, prostate cancer tumors depend on androgen to grow, so treatment with drugs to counter androgen production has long been used to slow their growth. Unfortunately, when the cancer progresses, this treatment stops working, and the disease cannot be cured.
UC Davis urology researchers are working to identify the mechanisms that lead to the development of so-called "androgen-independent prostate cancer." The hope is that understanding the mechanisms will lead to more effective approaches to treatment of advanced disease.