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Mother-Daughter Team Performs Groundbreaking Research for Prostate Cancer Genes

Monday, July 9, 2012

Groundbreaking research has identified four genes linked to the prognosis of prostate cancer—a major breakthrough that may significantly improve management options for this very common cancer. Identifying genetic markers linked with slow growing cancers could save thousands of men from unnecessary treatment often resulting in impotence and urinary incontinence, while genetic markers linked to aggressive prostate cancers could lead to development of essential targeted therapies.

“Having the opportunity to be a part of such a major discovery is an incredible experience.”
— Ali Tradonsky, 18 years old

Published in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, the study’s senior author is Sharon Mair, MD, FASCP, Director of Cytopathology at Grossmont Hospital, LaMesa, Calif. For Dr. Mair, the thrill of the discovery and the hope of developing a better way to care for prostate cancer patients are coupled with maternal pride as her 18-year-old daughter, Ali Tradonsky, was one of her key partners in the study.

Dr. Mair said she had wanted to work on the research project for years when her daughter—a sophomore in high school at the time—approached her about mentoring her and a friend concerning a medical research project for an advanced science research program in which they had been invited to participate.

“I told them that it would be the hardest thing they had ever done, and that they needed a full education in prostate cancer to understand the context before they ever tested the first sample,” Dr. Mair said.

That was the beginning of close to three years of all-consuming work for the team. “They were very excited, and I was very grateful for their enthusiasm and how hard they worked,” Dr. Mair said. “It was very intense, and there were many times we pulled all nighters.”

Dr. Mair and her team analyzed biopsy specimens from 240 prostate cancer patients and then followed their progress with the disease. They analyzed antibodies directed against the protein products of 20 genes in both benign and malignant cells from each patient and then compared findings to patient outcomes. Four genetic markers were clearly associated with prostate cancer prognosis—two of which were associated with slow growing cancer and two with aggressive cancer.

According to Dr. Mair, the next step is expected to be a large scale, multicenter study to validate the data. “I want this to move forward, and to change the way we care for prostate cancer patients,” she said.

Dr. Mair’s daughter, Ali Tradonsky, begins college in the fall at the University of Pennsylvania where she hopes to major in economics while on a pre-med track, ultimately earning degrees in both medicine and economics.  

“Having the opportunity to be a part of such a major discovery is an incredible experience,” Ms. Tradonsky said. “I am very grateful to everyone who gave us the opportunity to pursue this work initially and I am very proud of all we have learned and accomplished throughout the process. Also, no words can ever express how appreciative I am for my mom, and for all the sacrifices she has made to make sure that this project could be carried out successfully.”