Martin Steffen, Ph.D.
Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Office: 670 Albany, Bio III, ERB 504
Work in the Steffen laboratory is focused on understanding the role of the immune system in the context of prostate disease, with the ultimate goal of developing a diagnostic test that will help to determine whether a person has prostate cancer. Currently, screening for prostate cancer is performed with the prostate specific antigen test (PSA test). The PSA test is relatively effective at detecting prostate cancer, however one of its chief shortcomings is that it is also elevated when a patient has benign prostatic hyperplasia and chronic prostatitis, two non-cancerous diseases of the prostate. His laboratory is currently developing a new, simple blood test that will aid in the definitive diagnosis of prostate cancer. In this scenario, PSA tests would remain the primary screening tool. When an elevated level is observed, the physician could then perform this new simple blood test to discriminate among the possibilities, avoiding the need for biopsy. This diagnostic is based on the manner in which a patient’s immune system responds to the prostate gland. Protein levels in circulating immune cells will be examined using mass spectrometry to identify those that are elevated. If this new diagnostic were able to reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies in the U.S. by half, this would result in ~80,000 fewer biopsies annually, with many fewer complications and patient discomfort, and total health care savings of ~$100 million.