20 Jan 2017
This article is more than 3 years old

How playing the long game and your donations led to mpMRI breakthrough

Today's announcement about mpMRI scans before a biopsy is a game-changer for prostate cancer diagnosis. But without Prostate Cancer UK's funding of a pilot project in 2010 thanks to your donations, this ground-breaking research would never have happened, says Dr Ian Le Guillou.

“This is the biggest leap forward in prostate cancer diagnosis in decades with the potential to save many lives,” declared Angela Culhane today, the chief executive of Prostate Cancer UK.

It’s not often that we get to say something like that, but today researchers have announced that a more accurate form of MRI – known as mpMRI – can improve detection of aggressive cancers while reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies for men.

Prostate Cancer UK played a key role in making this game-changing research possible and we could only do that thanks to the generous donations from you, our supporters, over many years.

Looking for bright flashes of inspiration that need support

The idea for this trial, known as PROMIS, came about in 2008 from a conversation at a conference we held, bringing together researchers from different areas of prostate cancer. Then, in 2010, we awarded £50,000 to Hash Ahmed and Mark Emberton at University College London Hospital to test the feasibility of using mpMRI to detect prostate cancer.

That study provided the data and evidence needed to secure over £2 million in Government funding to carry out the PROMIS trial that is being reported today.

As you can see, research investment can take some time to pay off. But when it does, it can make a huge difference. We often have to play the long game with research, looking for those bright flashes of inspiration that need a bit of support to get them off the ground.

PROMIS shows the long game can and will pay off. We expect the research we're funding today to transform diagnosis, treatment and prevention in exactly the same way

Our new Research Innovation Awards aim to do just that. We tell researchers to send us their best ideas, asking for the amount they need to deliver without being constrained by artificial upper or lower limits. As part of the application process, we also make researchers tell us what the next steps will be at the end of the grant we fund. This allows us to make sure that we don’t fund research that doesn’t have a clear path to making a difference to men.

Those paths to impact might, in some cases, take years to achieve. But as the PROMIS trial shows us, the long game can and will pay off. In the coming years, we expect the research we're funding today to transform the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of prostate cancer in exactly the same way.

Funding the professors and breakthroughs of the future

This long-term view doesn’t just apply to ideas but people, too. PhD students and fellowships that we are funding now will become the professors of the future, driving forward the research that will tame this disease once and for all. That’s why we need the best and brightest to be working on prostate cancer right now, early in their careers.

We still haven’t even seen the full benefits from the PROMIS trial. Since the trial was so thorough, there is a lot of reliable information collected about the cancer from each man taking part in the trial. Prostate Cancer UK has provided further funding to collect samples, such as blood and urine, from these men, which can now be used by researchers to help develop better tests than relying on PSA alone.

There is a long way still to go, but our ambitious plan is to tame prostate cancer within ten years. Today’s news shows us that we are making leaps in the right direction and, with your help, Prostate Cancer UK will be the key player in getting us the rest of the way there.