In medicine, technological advances and breakthroughs happen at lightning-paced speeds. But in the realm of prostate cancer, one major development, the Gleason grading system for tumors, has stood the test of time. The man who developed the grading scale in 1966, Dr. Donald Gleason, died of heart failure on Dec. 28. Gleason, a former professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School, was 88 years old. His work is described by former colleague Akhouri Sinha, an associate professor of genetics and cell biology and scientist at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center., as âÄúthe gold standardâÄù in prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. Gleason developed the grading system while working at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, where Sinha first met him in the early 1970s. The two researched together at the VA and published multiple papers together, the most recent being in 2002. Prostate tumors often have areas that appear to be advanced cancer as well as areas that donâÄôt look advanced, Jim McCarthy, professor of laboratory medicine, said. GleasonâÄôs score is comprised of a one-to-five grade on two areas of the tumor. âÄúItâÄôs fundamentally significant,âÄù McCarthy, who also heads the Masonic Cancer CenterâÄôs tumor biology and progression research program, said of GleasonâÄôs work. âÄúIt gives you a sense of how a patient is going to do, gives you the ability of prognosis.âÄù Today, all research done in the area of prostate tumors begins with the Gleason score, Sinha said. âÄúEverybody uses it as a baseline. If you are going to do work on prostate cancer, first you want to know the pathology of the cancer,âÄù he said, meaning to determine the Gleason score. âÄúIf you have not done that, nobodyâÄôs going to buy it.âÄù Gleason grew up in Litchfield, Minn. during the Great Depression, his daughter Ginger Venable, 46, of Eden Prairie, said. Gleason started school at the University of Minnesota in 1938, working his way through college as a waiter. Two months before the end of World War II, Gleason enlisted in the army to pay for medical school. He was later recalled during the Korean War. Unable to find a job after the war, Gleason and his wife Nancy spent six months in Paris, where he studied language and art. Venable said she and her sisters each own one of their fatherâÄôs paintings. Gleason was a frugal, modest man, Venable said, but his one indulgence was sailing on Lake Minnetonka. Despite her fatherâÄôs accomplishments in the urology field, Venable said he instilled a firm sense of humility and respect into his family. âÄúI think he helped save the lives of several hundred thousand men,âÄù she said, adding that one of her nieces had once been referred to as âÄúurology royaltyâÄù by her own urologist. Venable said the family will remember Gleason as a renaissance man, interested in cooking, medicine, languages and learning. âÄúHe was always learning new things, and kind of instilled that in his children and nine grandchildren.âÄù
University continues advanced prostate research
GleasonâÄôs work will continue to play a role in McCarthyâÄôs work at the Masonic Cancer Center. He and a team of researchers were awarded a $2.6 million grant to study and âÄúidentify new tumor targets that can be used to stop the growth and spread of prostate cancer.âÄù Over the next five years, McCarthyâÄôs team will study changes in the chemical environment of prostate tumors, and attempt to disrupt those changes in order to halt tumor growth. If theyâÄôre successful, the process could be converted to drug therapy that would significantly change the way prostate cancer is treated. The tumors they are focusing on are those with a Gleason score of seven and above, he said. The main interaction they will target is a large carbohydrate called hyaluronan, which tends to build up around tumors and appears to be necessary for the tumor to grow. Previous research has shown that more aggressive tumors have a higher presence of the carbohydrate. McCarthy said he hopes to develop a way to disrupt the process of the hyaluronan bonding to receptors on the tumor that could eventually translate into drug therapy. — Emma L. Carew is a senior staff reporter at The Minnesota Daily.