Professor Hash Ahmed is Chair of Urology at Imperial College London, based in Charing Cross Hospital. He meets with men every day to guide them from prostate cancer diagnosis to finding the best treatment for them, but he’s also a researcher. Thanks in large part to your donations, he’s been on a 10-year mission to make the biggest difference he can for men. And for Professor Ahmed that means one thing: delivering practice changing clinical trials.
Professor Ahmed runs clinical trials that span all aspects of managing prostate cancer, from improving diagnosis to giving men better treatments. Now, we’ve funded him in our latest round of Research Innovation Awards to carry out the pilot trial which could bring focal therapy – treating just the cancer and leaving the healthy areas of prostate untreated – to men. We caught up with him, to find out how he got here, and what drives him to keep going.
You’re a medical doctor and a researcher, how do you split your time between two such big jobs?
I've been doing research probably the last 10 years, jointly with clinical practice – and it’s a 50-50 split. My guiding principle is to have a clinical trial that’s suitable for every patient I meet – wherever he is in his prostate cancer experience. In my experience, most patients do want to hear about clinical trials, and will give them careful consideration, but for us, the key to running trials that men want to take part in, is to design them together with patients. This interaction with patients is so important. Both to me, and to my research. It reminds me why I’m here, and helps me to keep sight of what’s most important for men, so I can design studies that directly link in with what patients say is important to them, and would improve their prostate cancer experience.
What about the research side of things?
My interest in research started with focal therapy, when I was working as a research fellow at UCL,with Professor Mark Emberton. We set up trials that were really the foundations of focal therapy in prostate cancer.
We first showed that if a man has cancer on one side of his prostate, we can treat just that one side and get good cancer control and few side effects. But we realised we couldn’t deliver more specific focal therapy, to just the areas with cancer, without having a good way to image the prostate. That led us to the PROMIS trial, where we showed mpMRI can be used to pinpoint where in the prostate the cancer is. Now that’s established as a gold-standard imaging technique, it means we have the tools in place to think about how to treat the cancer more precisely. That makes now the perfect time to really push to establish focal therapy. Focal therapy will deliver a huge shift in prostate cancer treatment. Not everyone may realise it yet, but it’s going to have a massive impact.The first step is CHRONOS, the trial I’m starting, funded by Prostate Cancer UK’s Research Innovation Awards. This is a pilot trial, where we’ll be testing focal therapies against standard treatments to the whole prostate, on a small scale. If this is successful, we’ll be able to run a larger trial that could prove focal therapies should be a widely available treatment option in the UK. Funding research like this is vital. We don’t have all the answers, but among the ideas will be the nuggets that lead to huge transformations.
What drives you to keep doing what you’re doing?
Getting change quickly into practice is what drives me. There's nothing wrong with doing long-term, blue-sky research - I benefit from it because I can use the findings from that to do the trials. But it’s the trials that get changes into clinical practice, and as a medical doctor, that’s what I’m most interested in.
What is has been your proudest career achievement?
I think it has to be the PROMIS trial. It was tough - it required personal push almost every single week to recruit patients, and engage with the centres running the trial to make sure they had it at the top of their minds. It was difficult and there were a lot of points where it almost failed. But it was worth it. Now this technology is changing the lives of men, not just in the UK, but men around the world.
Where can we find you when you’re not at the hospital?
With the kids at home. I have a four-year-old and a nine-year-old, so there is very little time to do anything else! I like to spend time in the garden though. I’m growing some flowers and some vegetables, and that helps me relax.
What do you hope will have changed for men with prostate cancer in ten years time?
I hope that in 10 years’ time we’ll have a national screening programme for prostate cancer. I hope we’ll have delivered the evidence, through research, that proves screening is the right thing. It will be a lot of work, but I think it’s possible.
We awarded funding to Professor Ahmed to run the CHRONOS trial in 2018. It’s not yet open for recruitment, but we’ll keep you updated and you can find out from our clinical trials map when it will be open for recruitment.