updated 12/8/2006 1:09:36 PM ET 2006-12-08T18:09:36

Drugs that regulate the hormone estrogen may help to prevent enlargement of the prostate gland in older men, Australian scientists said on Monday.

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Early results from animal studies presented at a medical conference in London showed that an experimental estrogen-regulating drug prevented the swelling of the prostate gland which occurs as men age.

“We still have to try the drugs in humans, but so far these are very promising results,” said Professor Gail Risbridger, of Monash University in Melbourne.

“This work holds out the possibility that we may be able to help patients with benign disease as well as men with prostate cancer by using these designer drugs.”

The prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut. An enlarged prostate, or benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), usually affects men over 60. It can cause urinary problems, infections and be very painful.

Estrogen is considered a female hormone but it also plays a role in the development of the prostate gland. The hormone has both positive and negative effects.

“There are two things that estrogens do, good and bad, but in different diseases,” Risbridger told Reuters.

The bad effect is that the hormone can drive malignancy but on the positive side it can stop BPH from developing.

Risbridger and her team tested the experimental drug, an estrogen receptor-beta agonist, on transgenic mice with BPH. In a study presented at the Society for Endocrinology conference, she said the drug activated just one of the two cell receptors for the hormone to produce the positive impact.

The scientists found regulating the estrogen receptor beta stopped the development of benign prostate hyperplasia, while the negative effects were due to switching on the estrogen receptor alpha.

“When you give one of the estrogen selective drugs that only activates a particular type of estrogen receptor, beta, you can prevent the hyperplasia from developing,” she said.

In the mice, the drug stopped development of the illness and improved the health of the animals which had existing BPH.

“Ideally, we would want to promote the good effects of estrogen receptor beta and block the bad effects of estrogen receptor alpha,” Risbridger added.

“It’s interesting work, and we are pleased that preclinical testing may translate into real benefits for patients,”

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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