Prostate cancer is distressingly common (diagnosed in 12% of men) and often fatal (9% of male cancer deaths).
Prostate cancer has overtaken lung cancer to become the most common male cancer in the UK with 35,000 cases diagnosed each year and around 11,000 deaths.
We still know very little about what causes this disease. The incidence of prostate cancer is very high in the UK and in North America, but very low in many Asian counties including China. Individuals who migrate from Asia to the UK or to the USA develop a high incidence of prostate cancer in the first or second generation suggesting that a change to the indigenous diet may be linked to higher cancer incidence. However, the components of the diet responsible for the variation in cancer incidence remain unknown.
We are perfectly placed to solve this problem. The Norwich Research Park (NRP) plays host to The John Innes Centre (JIC) and The Institute for Food Research (IFR). These centres have active research programs that are highly relevant to drug development and to unravelling the links between diet and cancer. We will invest in developing a unique research program relevant to patients who have or may develop prostate cancer.
This program is being led by Prof Colin Cooper, UEA's leading prostate cancer researcher who is part-funded by The 'Big-C'. Professor Cooper is currently situated in the new Bob Champion Research and Education Building. The proximity of the building to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital is allowing Professor Cooper and his team to work more closely with both patients and clinicians to better treat individual cases, taking samples from them and working with them to improve their treatment and develop research strategies.
Broccoli research trial
- Men who eat diets rich in green-leaf vegetables, such as broccoli, have been shown to have a lower chance of developing prostate cancer, or of their cancer becoming more aggressive. To investigate this connection further, UEA and the Institute of Food Research are conducting a study into how men identified as being ‘at risk’ of prostate cancer respond to eating more broccoli.
- The trial asks 100 men with prostate cancer to eat a special broccoli and stilton soup one a week for a year. By comparing a biopsy from the beginning and end of the trial, the team will be able to study the impact of the special compound found in broccoli (called ‘sulforaphane’).
- The results of this study could not only feed into future dietary advice for men who are at risk but could be important for drug development.
Pussy cats and Tigers
- More than half of all men over 50yrs are thought to have cancer cells in their prostate, but only about 10% of those cells will ever become life-threatening. So for the majority of patients the cancer cells will never cause any symptoms – these are the ‘pussycat’ cancers. The cancers that progress and become life threatening are the ‘tiger’ cancers.
- This is a major problem for doctors and patients because, at the moment, there is no reliable test to distinguish between the pussycats and the tigers. Improved bio markers are therefore needed to develop a test which will allow radical therapies and treatments to be targeted to men with aggressive cancers, and for those with pussycat cancers to be spared the side-effects of treatment.
- To develop this test, Professor Cooper and his team are looking for common characteristics and signs in urine samples from 600 men being treated for prostate cancer at the hospital. Identifying this set of common characteristics (or biomarkers) and developing a reliable “pussycat or tiger” test would radically change the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer for patients.
- Cancer is a genetic disease. This is why a major strand of the team’s work focuses on genome sequencing and the study of mutated cancer genes. Researching genes that have errors, and how they mutate, will deepen our understanding of cancer, how it develops and how to treat it.
- Through all our research strands we are gathering a huge amount of genetic samples and data to inform our research. Through a collaboration between medicine and computing at UEA, we can use Big Data analysis and supercomputers to identify common characteristics and new possibilities.
- This is an exciting period of rapid progress driven by new technology. However, progress is only possible with the right tools, along with the expert staff to use them.
What will donations to Prostate Cancer Research support?
The fund is dedicated to supporting the work of Professor Colin Cooper’s team, your donation could support:
- New clinical trials
- New researcher posts to grow the team
- Partnerships with other research institutions
- Research equipment and facilities