Students Staff

25 August 2016

Essex researchers awarded crucial grant for ‘pioneering’ prostate cancer study

Essex scientists

From left: Dr Ralf Zwacka, Dr Andrea Mohr and Dr Greg Brooke.

Researchers from Essex have received a grant of over £255,800 to test a new method of treatment that uses adult stem cells to deliver a cancer killing protein directly to the prostate cancer cells.

If successful, it could revolutionise treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer.

The grant has been awarded by Prostate Cancer UK as part of the charity’s new £2.6 million Research Innovation Awards scheme. This initiative encourages researchers to develop forward thinking, ambitious research proposals which challenge the status-quo.

The researchers, led by Dr Ralf Zwacka, from the University’s Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Group, will test whether they can use adult stem cells as a “Trojan horse” to smuggle a protein called TRAIL to the prostate cancer cells, causing the cells to die.

Dr Zwacka said: “There are too few treatments for men with advanced prostate cancer and those that do exist unfortunately don’t work for every man.

“The protein TRAIL was first identified in the mid-1990s but has yet to show any clinical benefit. We think that this is because it is quite an unstable protein, so when it is given by itself as a therapy, it breaks down before it has the chance to reach the cancer and do its job. However, we’ve found a possible way to use adult stem cells as a Trojan horse to smuggle this protein to the cancer cells, so that it can destroy the cancer cells before being broken down.

“If our lab experiments are successful, we will take this method into a clinical trial and hope to eventually provide a new way of treating men with advanced prostate cancer.

“We’re incredibly grateful for this grant from Prostate Cancer UK and can’t wait to get started.”

Prostate cancer kills over 1,600 men in the South East every year and over 6,700 are diagnosed with the disease. Over the next ten years Prostate Cancer UK has set out to tame prostate cancer so that it becomes a disease that doesn’t pose the same threat to men’s lives that it does today. In order to achieve this aim, the charity is concentrating all of its research firepower on three key areas: diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said; “Through shifting the science over the next decade, we want to transform prostate cancer into a disease that the next generation of men will not fear.

“We’re delighted to be funding our first ever Research Innovation Awards, which has been made possible thanks to the generous donations of our supporters. We challenged the research community to think creatively and send us ideas we’d never seen before, that could really change the game for men. We weren’t disappointed. Pioneering research like this from Dr Zwacka is going to play a key role in helping us to achieve our ten year goal and we’re looking forward to seeing how this research progresses.”

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