Professor Helen McCarthy is developing an exciting new treatment that trains the body’s own immune response to target and kill prostate cancer cells.

7 Nov 2019

To beat prostate cancer, we need to experiment and push boundaries with innovative research that tackles the disease from new angles.

Professor Helen McCarthy is developing an exciting new treatment that trains the body’s own immune response to target and kill prostate cancer cells.

Now, with your help, we’re funding her to find a way to deliver a prostate cancer vaccine to men in a trial for the first time.

The immune system is the body’s natural defence system. It patrols the body, seeking and destroying anything that could cause us harm. And by using vaccines and medicines, its power can be enhanced against new diseases, including cancer.

This is a rapidly expanding and exciting field called immunotherapy. And already, we’ve seen miraculous results in some patients with skin or blood cancers. In fact, immunotherapies are now an available treatment in some cancer types. Yet these miraculous results have been notably absent for men with prostate cancer in the UK, with a variety of attempts yielding disappointing results. 

Luckily, scientists have viewed setbacks in immunotherapy as a challenge, not a defeat. Among them, is Professor Helen McCarthy, from Queens University Belfast.

 

Developing a prostate cancer vaccine

For several years, Professor McCarthy has been working on a prostate cancer vaccine that aims to not only cure prostate cancer, but potentially prevent it from returning. Ultimately, she aims to keep men with their loved ones for longer.   

Much like a vaccine for any other disease, Professor McCarthy’s works by training the immune system to recognise tell-tale signs of prostate cancer, and kick it into gear to fight the disease. The only challenge now is to make sure the vaccine gets ‘seen’ by the immune system. 

She says, “You can make the best treatment in the world, but if it can’t get to where it needs to go, it’s useless”. To that end, and with your help, we’ve funded a series of research projects in Professor McCarthy’s lab that aim to perfect the delivery of her prostate cancer vaccine.

You can make the best treatment in the world, but if it can’t get to where it needs to go, it’s useless.

- Professor Helen McCarthy

 

Jumping barriers to the immune system

To make it inside the body, and into the immune cells where it’s needed, the vaccine has to overcome two barriers. Luckily, Professor Helen McCarthy has developed two innovative systems to do just that.

Firstly, the treatment needs to make it through the skin and into the bloodstream, where the immune system patrols the body. For this, she’s created a specialist ‘microneedle patch’, loaded with her vaccine, which can be applied painlessly onto the skin like a plaster. Here the needles dissolve into the bloodstream, delivering the treatment through the skin.

Next, the vaccine has to make its way into the immune cells. For this, Professor McCarthy has developed a microscopic protein ‘coat’ for her treatment, that will help penetrate the cellular barriers of the immune system like her microneedles penetrate the skin.

By the end of this project, Professor McCarthy aims to have finished testing her vaccine and this dual delivery system, ready to take it into an early-stage clinical trial with men.

The supporters of Prostate Cancer UK are the key cog that make everything happen

- Professor Helen McCarthy

 

Thank you for driving immunotherapy forward for men

Immunotherapy is certainly a challenge, but we believe with the right minds and the right support behind us, it’s possible.

Professor McCarthy says, “For me one of the key positives about Prostate Cancer UK is their commitment to fund true innovative research that has never been done before. That's what we need if we're going to tackle prostate cancer. 

“The supporters of Prostate Cancer UK are the key cog that make everything happen,” said Professor McCarthy. “They make the innovation happen, and they make the development of new treatments happen. Without them I don't believe research like mine would be possible.”

This Christmas, help us raise £1 million for research into innovative new treatments like Professor McCarthy’s that will give families more time with the men they love. 

Time to enjoy the brilliant, silly, caring, heart-warming, selfless things our Dads, brothers, sons and friends do.

The things that make Christmas great. The things we miss when they’re lost too soon.

This Christmas, and always; Men, we are with you.

comments powered by Disqus