Researchers at the University of East Anglia, Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust and Oxford Biodynamics are developing a new genetic blood test for prostate cancer in Black men - who are twice as likely to develop and die of the disease than white men.
The project will see researchers combine DNA testing with AI to create the new test – thanks to funding from Prostate Cancer Research.
The team hope that their technology could one day be used to screen for prostate cancer among Black men, as well as better diagnose other racial groups, for a wide range of cancers.
Lead researcher Prof Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “In the UK there is a racial disparity in prostate cancer, where Black patients are twice as likely to develop the disease and die of it than white men.
“Recent research shows that this staggering racial difference for prostate cancer diagnosis and mortality is due to genetic differences, but their exact nature is currently not known.
“We want to create a fundamentally new, highly accurate genetic blood test for prostate cancer in Black men, taking into account their genetic diversity.
“Developing tailored genetic testing is really important because getting an early diagnosis allows better treatment. The five-year survival rate for men diagnosed with stage one prostate cancer is 100 per cent, compared with only 50 per cent for those with stage four cancer.”
The team’s previous research has shown that prostate cancer tumours leave a genetic imprint on blood cells, and that this can be detected using a PCR technique, much like a Covid test.
The new project is the first of its kind and will look for specific genetic imprints in the blood of Black patients and compare them to their white counterparts, and a control group without cancer.
Urology consultant Dr Mathias Winkler, Mathias from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Prostate cancer in Black men is twice as common as in white men.
"We are poised to help Black men with finding their prostate cancers earlier and treating them better so that these cancers have a minimal impact on quality of life.”
Prof Elena Kulinskaya, from UEA’s School of Computing Sciences, said: “We will use new technology that combines DNA testing with machine learning algorithms.
“These tests could be performed in most hospitals and are rapid, minimally invasive, accurate and cost-effective, so they could be used for cancer screening – leading to early identification of patients that would be otherwise missed,
“We hope that the advent of such tests will provide significant opportunities to tackle racial disparity in cancer diagnosis and treatment across other cancers and racial groups,” she added.
This project has been made possible thanks to a grant from Prostate Cancer Research.
Prostate Cancer Research has committed to funding at least three rounds of targeted projects which will explore solutions to the racial disparity within prostate cancer over the next three years, as part of a broader health inequities programme which also focuses on health literacy and data.
Dr Naomi Elster, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer Research, said: “This important work led by Prof Pshezhetskiy is not only advancing our technology, it’s making sure that the most cutting-edge technology takes diversity into account so that it will work for everyone.
“There is a real need for a new way to diagnose prostate cancer, as the PSA blood test we currently use is not as accurate as we want, rectal exams are invasive and people understandably are not comfortable with them, and imaging techniques such as MRI require specialist equipment that may not always be available. We see real potential in this targeted genetic test.”