Research Case Study

Looking to revolutionise prostate cancer treatment

Essex scientists are aiming to develop a new type of treatment for advanced prostate cancer.

  • Tagged under

    Health and wellbeing

  • Lead Academics

    Dr Ralf Zwacka
    Dr Andrea Mohr

Researchers are testing a new method 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.

 Funded by the Prostate Cancer UK, the three-year project 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.

Why this research is different

The University’s Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Group studies the therapeutic use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer. Our researchers are interested in how tumour cells respond to treatment and find better diagnostic tools and new therapies.

This current project focuses on the protein TRAIL, which was first identified in the mid-1990s but has yet to show any clinical benefit because it is quite an unstable protein which breaks down before it has the chance to reach the cancer and do its job.

However, our team, led by Dr Ralf Zwacka, have found a possible way to overcome this problem by using adult stem cells as a “Trojan horse” to smuggle the TRAIL protein to the primary cancer cells but also help it to ‘seek and destroy’ secondary cancers that have escaped the prostate and started to grow elsewhere in the body.

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

What the future holds

Over the next ten years Prostate Cancer UK has set out to tame prostate cancer so it becomes a disease that doesn’t pose the same threat to men’s lives that it does today.

The Essex team aims to develop a new type of treatment for advanced prostate cancer, and carry out robust pre-clinical testing to build the evidence needed to take it through to clinical trials, with the hope to eventually provide a new way of treating men with advanced prostate cancer.

They’ll be carrying out laboratory tests to find out how well, and how safely, the cancer-killing protein loaded into adult stem cells can infiltrate and kill prostate cancer cells in the main prostate tumour and elsewhere in the body.

“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,” said Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK.