31 Mar 2023

Can we manipulate sugar molecules and gut bugs to treat prostate cancer?

We’ve just invested a huge £3m into revolutionary research as we hunt for the next generation of tests and treatments. The seven ground-breaking projects from the brightest minds in research could change the way prostate cancer is diagnosed and treated.

When men’s lives are on the line, we are never content to settle for the status quo.

That’s why, thanks to your support, we’ve just invested a huge £3 million into new and innovative research across the UK.

Researchers at seven institutions around the country will use the money to explore bold, new ideas about how prostate cancer could be diagnosed and treated.

They will investigate all aspects of prostate cancer, from the underlying biology that drives it, to the weaknesses that could uncover new paths to treating it.

By going back to the very nature of the disease, the research projects could lead to new, more effective tests, earlier diagnoses, and better targeted drugs for prostate cancer — all of which would save countless men’s lives.

Including these new projects, funded as part of our Research Innovation Awards, this year we will invest more than £7.8 million into research that enables men to get diagnosed earlier, and treated more effectively.

Faster ways to test for aggressive cancer

Two of the new projects have already hit the headlines.

Both focusing on types of sugar molecules, these projects are led by scientists at Newcastle University, Imperial College London and Swansea University.

In Swansea, Dr Jason Webber is looking to create a new type of blood test for prostate cancer. This test could determine a man’s risk of developing the disease, making it easier to find it when it is still curable.

By spying on the way cancer cells communicate, the test could also tell men with the disease if their cancer is aggressive – that is, likely to spread quickly – or not. Currently, the only way to determine if a man’s prostate cancer is aggressive is with a biopsy.

Dr Webber said: “With a test like this, we could identify which men need urgent treatment sooner than is currently possible. That means they could start treatment earlier, when they are more likely to benefit from it.

“And for men who have a less aggressive, low-grade prostate cancer, the information we uncover could provide that extra level of reassurance if they decide on active surveillance.”

Developing new, more precise treatments

The other project is led by Dr Jennifer Munkley at Newcastle University and Dr Benjamin Schumann at Imperial College London.

Their new study will zero in on sugar molecules found on the surface of prostate cancer cells that cause tumours to grow and spread.  

The team will target a previously overlooked protein that makes these sugar molecules and find a way to block it – cutting off the source of the sugar molecules and so preventing them from forming.  

“This would lead to the development of new, more precise treatments that stop prostate cancer in its tracks before it has a chance to spread around the body and become incurable,” Dr Munkley said.

“We’re going to test whether existing drugs can be used to block this protein, and use state-of-the-art techniques to create new drugs that target it. We’ll also work with patients to discover whether monitoring this protein will enable more personalised prostate cancer treatment.”

Cutting-edge research, made possible by you

These two projects are just the beginning. Other research we're funding with this £3 million investment includes a project looking at activating the body’s immune cells to kill prostate cancer cells and learn to eliminate tumours. The research could lead to more targeted treatments that are more effective and cause fewer side effects.

Another project will look at the gut bugs associated with prostate cancer, which could lead to antibiotic therapies that eradicate those specific bacteria and stop cancer cells growing, as well as unprecedented types of tests for the disease. This research builds on findings we reported back in 2022.

Announcing the funding, Dr Matthew Hobbs, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “Diagnosing men earlier and developing smarter, more targeted treatments will give us the best possible chance to stop prostate cancer being a killer and to improve the lives of men living with the disease. That’s why we’ve invested £3m into just this round of cutting-edge prostate cancer research across the UK.

“Thanks to the incredible generosity of our supporters, we’re able to work with some of the best minds in the field, bringing us closer every day to achieving this.”

For researchers who are interested in applying for a Research Innovation Award, the next round of applications opens in July 2023.

Your support makes this research happen. But don’t just take our word for it.

Dr Webber himself told us: “Without Prostate Cancer UK’s supporters, this research just wouldn’t go ahead. So, a huge thank you for all your support. I’m determined to give something back by making a difference to the lives of men with prostate cancer.”

If you can, please donate to fund more innovative research like this.


Research Test Tubes Science Istock 000015600935


With your help we can beat prostate cancer, together.
Donate now
202101 March The Month Banner

March the Month this September

Walk 11,000 steps a day throughout September for the more than 11,000 dads, partners, grandads, sons, brothers, uncles and mates who die from prostate cancer every year.
Sign up now