An international group of researchers has identified dozens more genes that are potentially involved in the growth of prostate cancer.

17 Apr 2018

New research published yesterday has studied changes in prostate cancer genes to identify new ways of treating the disease. The researchers looked at the entire DNA sequence of over 900 prostate cancer samples, including cancer that had spread to other parts of the body, to find 80 genetic changes that are linked to the development of prostate cancer.

Some of the genes detected were already known to be involved, such as BRCA2 (which is more commonly associated with breast cancer), however the researchers found 22 genes that hadn’t been linked to prostate cancer before. The next step will then be to study these genes in cells and samples to see what happens when you treat them with new drugs to stop them working.

The researchers were able to see links between changes in certain genes and the behaviour of the cancer, such as whether it came back after treatment. This could one day allow doctors to offer more accurate prognoses to men and select the treatment with confidence.

Results build on "Rosetta stone" of prostate cancer

This has built on work reported as the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of prostate cancer a few years ago, which was the first time that researchers could study the genetics of cancer that had spread outside the prostate. This new study analysed samples from more men and this allowed them to find more of the genes involved.

For many of the most of common genetic changes, there is already work happening to find drugs to target them. For example, our research into an ovarian cancer drug for BRCA2 mutations or the genes CHD1 and PTEN which cause the prostate cancer to be aggressive.

For the new genes identified in this study, there are some existing drugs that might be able to work, so these results could be tested relatively quickly in the lab. This will allow researchers to gauge which are likely to be the most effective before moving onto clinical trials.

This is the basis of our precision medicine programme

Understanding the variety of genetic changes that’s driving the cancer is important to tailor the treatment to each man. This is the basis of our precision medicine programme, where we have created a system for new research to feed into clinical trials where the men most likely to benefit from a new treatment can be selected based on the characteristics of their cancer.

The study, published in Nature Genetics journal, was carried out by a large international team of researchers using a number of databases.

Study leader, Ros Eeles, Professor of Oncogenetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Our study applied cutting-edge techniques in Big Data analysis to unlock a wealth of new information about prostate cancer and possible ways to combat the disease.

“One of the challenges we face in cancer research is the complexity of the disease and the sheer number of ways we could potentially treat it – but our study will help focus our efforts on the areas that offer most promise for patient benefit.”

Further funding for research like this is crucial if we are to stop prostate cancer being a killer

Simon Grieveson, our head of research funding, said: “This important study helps shed some light into the genetic make-up of prostate cancer as it develops and progresses. The researchers have identified a number of changes in the genetic structure of prostate cancer that, if targeted, could eventually lead to the development of new treatments for the disease. The next step is to determine the effectiveness of targeting these newly identified genetic changes with new and existing therapies in the lab, in order to develop the necessary evidence to inform future clinical trials.

“We currently have a one-size-fits-all approach to treating prostate cancer, even though every man’s cancer is unique. By better understanding the genetic make-up of an individual’s cancer, it may be possible to more accurately predict how it will behave and the best way to treat it, creating a more precise approach to treating that man’s prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer UK is focussed on making this approach a reality and recently announced our commitment towards a Precision Medicine research programme. However, a lot more still needs to be done, and further funding for research like this is crucial if we are to stop prostate cancer being a killer."

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