Ireland’s Scholars at the forefront of Prostate Cancer Research

Posted: 26 November, 2014

Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer and third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men in the Western world, including Ireland. Every year, more than 1 million men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and, tragically, almost one-quarter of a million men die from the disease.

Ireland’s researchers are at the forefront of investigating cancers of the prostate and testes. Irish Research Council awardees, Ms Alexandra Tuzova (Trinity College Dublin) and Dr Sinéad Aherne (Dublin City University), discuss their research into this important field.

Early Detection of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Alexandra Tuzova, Trinity College Dublin & All Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group (ICORG)

For men with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, early diagnosis and treatment are essential. However, as Alexandra Tuzova observes, “successful management of prostate cancer is marred by over-treatment of indolent disease with little likelihood of clinical manifestation. This causes enormous economic cost and significant treatment-associated co-morbidities.”

Consequently, there is a critical need to develop better biomarkers that can specifically detect aggressive prostate cancer at an early stage (whilst still gland-confined) and discriminate from low-risk disease. Ms Tuzova’s research addresses this need, studying urine samples from men before they have a prostate biopsy and testing whether the presence of tiny genes (called microRNAs) can identify which men have the aggressive form of prostate cancer. Together with her fellow researchers, Ms Tuzova has found strong evidence that these microRNAs are involved in prostate cancer and believes that urine sampling represents an excellent “non-invasive” method of measuring cancer-associated changes.

Investigating Prostate Cancer Bone Metastasis

Dr Sinéad Aherne, National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology, Dublin City University & H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Florida

Dr Aherne comments that, while prostate cancer poses a significant threat to men’s health, “the spread of cancer from the prostate to secondary sites in the body (metastasis) is the primary cause of patient death”. The skeleton is the most common site of metastasis for prostate cancer, with approximately 90% of the men who die from the disease displaying evidence of bone metastasis. These metastases are often resistant to conventional therapies and can cause numerous side effects, including severe pain and bone fracture, which significantly contribute to patient morbidity.

Currently, prostate-to-bone metastases are incurable. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that drive the cancer to spread to the bone will facilitate the discovery of novel therapeutic targets to treat this devastating clinical problem. Previously, the study of this process has been hindered by a lack of appropriate animal models. Dr Conor Lynch’s research group at the Moffitt Cancer Centre in Tampa, Florida, has developed models that recapitulate the clinical scenario of prostate-to-bone metastases and mimic the pathophysiology of the disease.

Dr Aherne’s Fellowship enables her to study the molecular mechanisms of the bone tumours in detail and will utilise research facilities and expertise in the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (NICB), Dublin City University, and at the Moffitt Cancer Centre.

As Dr Aherne explains, “the anticipated results of this work will significantly impact our understanding of the mechanisms controlling prostate cancer metastasis to bone and could yield new therapeutic targets for the treatment of this debilitating disease.”

About the Irish Research Council, its Awardees & ‘Movember’:

Ms Alexandra Tuzova is an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme Postgraduate Scholar. Her project’s Enterprise Partner is ICORG, the All Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group, a charity whose mission is to enable Irish patients to gain early access to new cancer treatments.

Dr Sinéad Aherne is in receipt of an ELEVATE Irish Research Council International Career Development Fellowship – co-funded by Marie Cure Actions.

The Irish Research Council is proud to support these and other cancer researchers within Ireland’s research community. Irish Research Council staff are currently fundraising for the Irish Cancer Society’s ‘Movember’ campaign. The ‘Movember’ initiative raises vital funds for, and awareness of, prostate and testicular cancer.

The Irish Research Council provides funding to excellent researchers across all disciplines – from Arts to Zoology. The Council strongly believes in the importance of encouraging individuals to become rigorous independent researchers and has funding opportunities designed to facilitate researchers’ crucial first steps on their career paths while, at the same time, enabling valuable novel research.

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