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LOS ANGELES — The prostate cancer program at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and UCLA Health has been awarded an $8.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

The Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant will support the development of new and innovative approaches for improving the diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

The 2019 designation recognizes UCLA’s prostate cancer program as one of the best in the country and marks the fourth time it will receive the five- year cycle of funding, according to the university. The program is one of only eight such current programs and the only one to be awarded the designation in the state of California.

“For the past 15 years, the SPORE grant has played a pivotal role in bringing a sense of cohesiveness to our program,” said the principal investigator of the grant, Dr. Robert Reiter, a professor of urology and director of the UCLA Prostate Cancer Program. “It funds projects that include researchers and scientists from diverse disciplines and backgrounds all around campus, such as chemistry, nanotechnology, radiology, pathology and stem cell biology, to help accelerate our goal of combating prostate cancer.”

Under Reiter’s leadership, the grant has led to significant discoveries having a major impact on how men with prostate cancer are treated, according to the university. Most notably, the grant helped support the work of Dr. Michael Jung, a UCLA distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Dr. Charles Sawyers, a former professor of medicine and molecular pharmacology at UCLA, according to the university.

Both doctors helped develop enzalutamide and apalutamide, testosterone- blocker treatments that can prolong life for men who have failed hormone and chemotherapies, according to the university. The drugs have been used by thousands of men with castration-resistant prostate cancer, according to the university.

Developments in imaging for detecting prostate cancer have also been supported through the grant. UCLA was among the first places in the country to employ MRI for detection, diagnosis and management of prostate cancer. Now, MRIs are used regularly to detect and assess the aggressiveness of malignant prostate tumors.

Among American men, prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnoses and the second-leading cause of cancer-related death. In 2018, there were an estimated 164,690 new cases of prostate cancer and 29,430 deaths from the disease reported in the United States.

Over the next five years, the grant will fund three translational research projects to find better ways to treat men with advanced stages of the disease that involve developing drug inhibitors for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, using CAR T cell therapy to treat men with advanced prostate cancer and targeting a protein to help inhibit lethal prostate cancer.

“This technology being funded has the potential to transform the treatment of prostate cancer,” said Dr. Michael Teitell, director of the Jonsson Cancer Center. “The support from the SPORE grant makes it possible for our researchers and physicians to bring observations from the clinic into the lab, to better understand why some patients respond, why some don’t and to really understand it at the scientific level, so they can develop new drugs and tools to overcome the obstacles that currently exist.”