Research Case Study

Insight: Helping improve early diagnosis for cancer

Our research is helping the fight against cancer by improving early diagnosis for prostate and breast cancer.

  • Tagged under

    Health and wellbeing

  • Lead Academic

    ​Professor Elena Klenova

Many of the 37,000 men in the UK who are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year are unnecessarily ‘over-treated’ simply because it is difficult to distinguish between benign and aggressive malignant tumours.

But in 2002 Professor Elena Klenova was part of an international scientific team which discovered a protein called BORIS, which appeared in malignant tumours and is a potential biomarker for cancer.

What this means for patients with prostate cancer

Professor Klenova’s team carried out a study which looked at levels of BORIS in prostate tumours and found that it was present only in malignant tumours, suggesting that the molecule could prove to be a useful biomarker for aggressive symptoms of the disease.

These findings could lead the way for pathologists to have better tools for the early diagnosis of prostate cancer and make sure patients get the right level of treatment, avoiding needless distress from being unnecessarily ‘over-treated’.

"This is a very exciting finding and will help in our daily fight against prostate cancer. It may more accurately identify those patients that need active treatment and aid in predicting long-term outcomes."
Mr John Corr Consultant Urological Surgeon

The research, involving the University-based Essex Biomedical Sciences Centre working with the Colchester Catalyst Charity and the Urology and Pathology Departments at Colchester General Hospital, offers real hope to improve to fight against prostate cancer.

“BORIS appears in malignant tumours, which is why it is seen as an important molecule in the development of cancer. It also can help distinguish between normal and cancerous cells,” explained Professor Klenova.

Other types of cancer

A third of people living in the UK can expect to be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.

In parallel with research into BORIS, Professor Klenova’s team has discovered several other potential biomarkers for breast cancer and prostate cancer.

“Collaborative work like this between a university and an acute hospital trust is a much underutilised resource in the NHS, and I am very happy to be involved in it,” added Consultant Urological Surgeon Mr John Corr.

The future

Building on our cancer research expertise, scientists are now investigating BORIS and other potential cancer biomarkers in a bigger study.

Assessing these biomarkers in a clinical setting is another step forwards in the fight against cancer.

A new generation of cancer researchers are also being taught at Essex in a unique new MSc course for the East of England.

The course gives students the opportunity to work with clinicians at the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust and Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute to develop knowledge and expertise in specific cancer types, emerging trends in cancer research and the clinical aspects of cancer.

Research team

Lydumyla Pavlova


Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex

Dr Gurvir Josan


Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex