Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Cancer research - Surrey University

Interesting news on cancer research can come from all sorts of unexpected sources (and I don't mean the daily press or the BBC...). One recent example comes from 'Forever Surrey', the magazine for alumni and supporters of Surrey University (where I did my PhD in computer science). The latest issue carries a few interesting snippets on cancer research at the university.

First up is news of a new urine test for prostate cancer. Current testing for the test is geared around Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA), which is produced by all prostate cancer cells, not just cancerous ones. This means a high PSA value may not necessarily be connected to cancer but be caused by other conditions. It's better than no test at all, but it's not ideal. It also makes it hard to distinguish between slow-growing prostate cancers that can be safely let alone or monitored over time, and those that are fast-growing, aggressive and have to be treated immediately. Professor Hardev Pandha, a professor at the university and a consultant oncologist at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, and his team have come up with a new test that is much more cancer-specific.

Targeting a protein called Engrailed-2 (EN2), which is produced by prostate cancer cells and present in urine, they have developed a test that is much more specific, faster and easier to use. For starters this is a urine test rather than a blood test (which is what the PSA test is), and the researchers are working on a version of the test that can be done using a dipstick (like a pregnancy testing kit). A more faster and more accurate test that can really pin-point cancer rather than just generic prostate problems would be a great step forward.

But it's not just a new and improved biomarker test that's being developed at Surrey. The same research team are also working on a new treatment for prostate cancer. Dr Richard Morgan, one of Professor Pandha's team, has been working on a drug that targets a protein called HXR9 which is only active in cancer cells. By being able to switch off this protein with a new drug it can safely treat prostate cancer - without the damaging side-effects of existing treatments.

Interestingly, the same drug seems to have activity in a range of other cancers, including ovarian, breast and melanoma. This is definitely one to keep an eye on in the future...

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