This time of year has always been full of new beginnings – a new football season, a new school year, and now new signings to Men United, as five new PhD students join our team of scientists and clinicians fighting prostate cancer in labs and hospitals around the country.
Earlier this year we awarded five new grants, funded by the Movember Foundation, to researchers in Bath, Newcastle, York, Oxford and Norwich, who are now looking forward to their new students starting work in the labs.
Jessica will be joining Dr Andrew Chantry’s team at the University of East Anglia, where she will be doing some of the essential early research to develop a new treatment for prostate cancer. Dr Chantry’s lab has already identified a protein called WWP2 that is distributed differently in prostate cancer cells to how it is in normal cells, and that makes tumour cells more aggressive. The scientists have also found a small molecule that can block the action of this protein.
Jessica’s job over the next three years will be to improve how well this molecule works, and to investigate exactly how WWP2 interacts with other proteins, so that they can design other molecules that will help block WWP2 from driving tumour growth. She’ll test how these molecules work in prostate cancer cells, and try to find the combination that has the biggest effect on cancer cell growth and spread.
Karen recently joined Professor David Elliott’s lab at the Institute of Genetic Medicine in Newcastle. She has already started her research into how the male hormone testosterone can control which genes are turned on and off to promote prostate cancer growth. She is also looking into how testosterone can make the same gene work in opposite ways by ‘reading’ it differently. So, imagine a sentence like ‘this cell must not divide’ being changed to ‘this cell must divide’ as it is read differently.
Karen will try to find out which genes testosterone reads differently, in both cancer cells grown in the lab and prostate cancer patients. She’ll then try to find out how these genes work and how important they are for prostate cancer growth. She and Professor Elliott hope that a better understanding of how testosterone controls the way genes work will lead to a way to identify the most serious cancers and maybe even new targets for treatment.
Michael’s PhD project in Professor Michael Threadgill’s lab will build on work done by Elvis Tyum, a previous Prostate Cancer UK funded PhD student. By the end of Elvis’ PhD, he had built all the individual components of a drug delivery system that was designed to build up within the prostate tumour and kill only cancer cells, not the surrounding healthy tissue.
This system works by using a ‘linker’ to attach a drug (which isn’t active as long as it’s attached to the linker) to a delivery molecule that builds up inside the prostate tumour. This means that the drug can pass all the way through the body without harming any healthy tissue. But the scientists designed the linker so that when it reaches the prostate, and comes into contact with Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) - a protein released by all prostate cells, but in especially high levels by prostate cancer cells - the linker breaks and releases the drug from the delivery molecule.
Michael will spend the next three years refining this system and making sure that both the drug and the linker work as well as possible, before putting all the parts together, ready to test in prostate cancer cells.
Researchers in Professor Norman Maitland’s lab at the University of York have found a protein called ELF3, which is made differently in aggressive prostate cancer cells, than in normal cells. Other scientists have confirmed this, but can’t yet agree whether ELF3 promotes or prevents aggressive prostate cancer.
Professor Maitland thinks that ELF3 might work differently in different types of prostate cancer cells, and so Leanne will be testing this theory during her PhD. She’ll see what happens when she increases or decreases levels of ELF3 in four different types of cells from prostate cancers, and whether this changes how aggressive each type of cancer cell becomes.
Once she’s found out whether ELF3 works for or against prostate cancer, Leanne will use samples of human prostate tumours in mice to investigate whether it might be possible to use ELF3 to design a new treatment for aggressive prostate cancer.
Dr Claire Edwards and her team at Oxford University have discovered that men whose prostate cancer eventually spreads to the bones, or metastasises, have higher levels of a protein called Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF) in their blood than other men with prostate cancer.
When Christina joins Dr Edwards’ lab, she will be using prostate cancer cells and in vivo models to investigate whether changing levels of LIF in prostate cancer cells affects the development of bone metastases, to see if LIF could be a new target for advanced prostate cancer therapy.
Christina will also compare levels of LIF in the blood of men with prostate cancer who have bone metastases, to men with localised prostate cancer that hasn’t spread to the bones. She wants to see if this might be a way to predict which men are at risk of developing prostate cancer bone metastases.
Prostate cancer is a tough opponent and it’s crucial that our research funding helps to build the team fighting against it. So we’re really excited to recruit these five new signings to Men United. And we can't wait to see how their research develops over the next three years.