Imperial researchers awarded £1.3 million to fight prostate cancer

Prostate Cancer UK has awarded Imperial researchers over £1.3 million for three projects that could lead to new treatments for the disease.

The Research Innovation Awards is a prestigious scheme aimed at funding the most impactful research in prostate cancer.  The number of prostate cancer cases is increasing in the UK – the condition kills over 11,000 men every year  and research is desperately needed to find new ways of tackling the disease.

The Imperial projects funded by the award include developing new targeted therapies to reduce side effects in patients, identifying new drug targets to stop prostate cancers becoming resistant to treatments, and new drugs to treat advanced prostate cancer.  

Commenting on the award Professor George Hanna, head of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, said: 

“I would like to congratulate our researchers on being recognised for their work to find new and more effective ways of treating prostate cancer.  The number of prostate cancer cases are increasing in the UK and there is a vital need to fund research projects that could stop the disease and lead to more men surviving prostate cancer.  These projects are a great example of this and have the potential to have a big impact for men and saving lives."

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK with around 35,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It develops when cells in the prostate grow in an uncontrolled way. Prostate cancer develops slowly and symptoms such as the blood in the urine do not appear until the disease has developed. It usually affects men over 50 and often men with a family history of the disease.  Deaths from prostate cancer have now overtaken those from breast cancer.

Focal therapies to fight prostate cancer

One of the projects will involve collaboration with clinicians at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.  Professor Hashim Ahmed, chair of urology at Imperial College London and consultant urology surgeon at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and Taimur Shah, urologist at the Trust, were awarded more than £485,000 to trial focal therapy in a small group of men.

Focal therapy is a term used to described non-invasive techniques, which specifically target tumours and leave the rest of the prostate intact. These include using sound wave therapy to heat and destroy cancer cells in the prostate. 

Currently, men with prostate cancer will usually be offered surgery or radiotherapy that treats the whole prostate, rather than just the areas that have cancer.  Although this treatment can be effective it can result in side effects such as incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

The researchers want to see if focal therapy can be used as alternative treatment for prostate cancer by comparing it with radiotherapy.  Previous studies have shown that the treatment is effective and result in fewer side effects.

Sixty men with prostate cancer will be recruited for the trial and they will be randomly split into two groups.  One group will receive focal therapy and the other radiotherapy.  The researchers will then compare the groups to see if there any difference in the progression of the disease or side effects.

Professor Hashim Ahmed said: “Current treatments for men with prostate cancer are effective but many of these men will experience life-changing side effects.  This can result in men feeling isolated or depressed.  There is a need not just to treat our patients but also to ensure their quality of life is not compromised.  We hope that our clinical trial will show that focal therapies can be an alternative treatment for men and be offered on the NHS so that we’re not just saving lives but minimising damage to patients.”

You can read about the other two projects on the Imperial College London website.