Health & Medicine

Mustache movement gives $1 million to UC Davis prostate research

The Movember movement, known for encouraging men to grow mustaches during the month of November, granted $1 million to UC Davis scientists earlier this month, putting them one step closer to a new treatment for prostate cancer.

The Prostate Cancer Foundation, a leading research institution, receives donations every year from Movember, a campaign that promotes mustache growth to raise awareness about men’s health. The Movember movement has raised $44 million for the foundation since launching in 2007.

This month, the foundation and Movember distributed five separate $1 million grants to research projects, including one led by Hongwu Chen and Christopher Evans of UC Davis.

The funding will allow the duo to continue their work of trying to inhibit ROR-gamma, a receptor protein that regulates the androgen receptor, considered the primary driver of prostate tumor development.

Most prostate cancer therapies on the market target the androgen receptor. While those therapies often work at first, many patients eventually become resistant to them and tumor growth continues, said Chen, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Medicine.

In his most recent research, he found that inhibiting the ROR-gamma receptor can reduce tumor growth in mice who prove resistant to therapies targeting the androgen receptor.

“There was a conceptual breakthrough,” he said. “Until our publication, there was no literature published demonstrating that the ROR-gamma plays an important role in cancer.”

Since that discovery, Chen and his collaborators have been working to develop small molecule compounds that can inhibit the ROR-gamma receptor, stopping the androgen receptor from producing more tumor cells.

The researchers plan to use the money from Movember and the foundation to continue perfecting their most promising compound. That means getting it into a less toxic form so it’s safe for human testing, and finding a way to make it ingestible by mouth so it can eventually be made into a pill – a process that could take a few years.

If successful, the targeted ROR-gamma therapy would be a safer option than standard chemotherapy for advanced cases of prostate cancer, Chen said. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer for men after skin cancer, and affects one in seven adult males in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.

“Traditional chemotherapy is not selective to a target,” he said. “Chemotherapy has very strong side effects and toxicity. Targeted therapy, on the other hand, has much lower toxicity.”

Movember is a popular event in Sacramento, and has been celebrated in the past by the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District., Insight Coffee Roasters, Edelman public relations firm and several other groups.

Nick Leonti, a Sacramento resident and Movember veteran, has led a local Movember team for the past few years and has raised several thousand dollars for the cause. He got on board with the campaign because it seemed like an easy way to give back, he said.

“You’re actually helping by being lazy, which is a really convenient way to do it,” he said. “That’s part of Movember’s charm.”

Movember participants will be pleased to know that funds are going directly into local research, he said.

“You raise the money and most of it’s online, so you never really see it yourself. It’s great to hear what actually happens when you put together a team and contribute your little piece.”

Chen said he is impressed by how much the Movember campaign has raised in the name of men’s health.

“I’m very grateful to the campaign and the people involved in it that put in the time and effort,” he said. “We are fortunate to have help from them.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola