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Funding boost for Norwich Research Park prostate cancer initiative

The Prostate Cancer Foundation has awarded $1m to the University of East Anglia, including Prof Colin Cooper of BIO/MED, and the Institute of Food Research to study the protective effects of broccoli consumption against prostate cancer.

Prof Richard Mithen and Dr Maria Traka will lead the research at IFR, in collaboration with leading cancer genetics expert Prof Colin Cooper of UEA, and Mr Robert Mills and Prof Richard Ball at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Prof Cooper, supported by the Big C local charity, has recently joined UEA’s Norwich Medical School and School of Biological Sciences.

The initiative builds on several years of research led by Prof Mithen on the biological activity of a naturally occurring compound called sulforaphane that is obtained in the diet from eating broccoli.

This is one of nine ‘Challenge’ Awards made by PCF in an effort to accelerate scientific discovery and new treatments for prostate cancer patients. It was selected after rigorous peer review of 96 applications from 10 countries. The unique capacity of the Norwich Research Park to integrate high quality plant science research, food research and clinical studies on a single campus was an important factor in the granting of this prestigious award.

“Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK - with more than 35,000 cases diagnosed each year. Around 11,000 men in the UK die from the disease,” said Prof Cooper.

“It has long been thought that what we eat can play a part in the likelihood of developing prostate cancer but the responsible dietary components have not yet been identified. A change in diet could be a very simple way of decreasing the risk of developing prostate cancer, helping future generations to avoid the disease altogether."

Men who eat diets rich in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, have been shown to have a lower chance of developing prostate cancer, or of progressing from localised cancer to more aggressive forms of the disease. Studies using model systems have suggested that sulforaphane, which is found at high levels in broccoli, may be behind the protective effects.

The new study will follow changes in the metabolism and gene expression in prostate tissue of men identified as being at risk of developing prostate cancer, and see how these changes are affected by eating a diet enriched with sulforaphane.

“The results of this study could help men by providing evidence that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables or sulforaphane can reduce the likelihood of metastatic cancer, leading to the provision of higher quality dietary advice. It will also result in a greater understanding of metabolic and gene expression changes in prostate tissue that may lead to better drug development,” said Prof Mithen.

Matthew Jones, chief operating officer of Norwich Research Park, said: “The receipt of this ‘Challenge’ award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation is very exciting news for Norwich Research Park and testament to the innovative research carried out by scientists in our partner institutions.

“The nine funding awards have only been given to those working in cross-disciplinary areas of research with near-term patient benefits. This is further evidence of the value seen by an increasing number of organisations in the unique combination of expertise on Norwich Research Park, ranging from fundamental research through to clinical trials and we are delighted by this endorsement.”


Photo: Prof Colin Cooper from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences and Norwich Medical School.