Researcher Q&A with Gang Zeng, Ph.D.

June 27, 2011

To raise awareness of preventable diseases during men’s health month, we are highlighting the research of Dr. Gang Zeng, an associate professor of urology, at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center. Dr. Zeng received a two-year grant from the Foundation in the spring of 2006. His research project focused on examining epitope arrays as a potentially complementary technology to Prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests for early detection of prostate cancer and its reoccurrence.

1.  What led you to the field of prostate cancer research?

Prostate cancer has a huge number of diagnosed cases (around 180,000) per year. On one hand, prostate cancer has some established detection approaches built around the PSA test.  After nearly 30 years of helping to identify prostate cancer, there are increasingly recognized issues for the PSA test, for example, false positive results.  A test with more accurate performance is needed for prostate cancer diagnosis and detection of those with a life-threatening disease. On the other hand, prostate cancer has been one of the most studied cancers in the US; a huge body of knowledge has been obtained in the past 30 years.  This has created the “perfect storm” for translational researchers like myself.  The body of knowledge will help us to find new approaches for the much-needed issue of a better prostate cancer detection.

2.  Tell us about your research to establish A+PSA tests for prostate cancer.

I got my training in cancer immunology at the National Cancer Institute, where I characterized human cancer antigens and worked on how to utilize these antigens in cancer therapy under the mentorship of Drs. Steve Rosenberg and Rongfu Wang.  I learned that spontaneous anti-cancer immune response was a feature in cancer patients, and became intrigued about exploring its use in early detection.  When I started at UCLA in 2002, the literature suggested that due to complexity of patient populations, a large number of cancer antigens are needed to develop a detection test for any given cancer.  There were no such tools available that could measure antibody responses to 8 or 10 antigens.

In 2006, the Prevent Cancer Foundation provided funding to support our exploration of a so-called “epitope array” approach for this purpose.   The proof of principle was established.  The “epitope array” was eventually combined with the classic PSA test under a new platform to become a multiplex antibody plus PSA or “A+PSA” assay for prostate cancer.  The results from studying more than 131 prostate cancer patients and 124 benign cases were published in the Journal of Translational Medicine in May of this year.

3.  Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?

From an economical point of view, therapy is more costly if a cancer is already developed into late stages.  On the other hand, prevention and early detection may help to reduce the number of cases required for treatment as well as find disease when it is easier to treat.  I believe cancer is more manageable with the right prevention and early detection approaches.

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