Turning the immune system on hormone-therapy resistant cancer

What you need to know

  • Dr Tait is developing a new treatment to work alongside hormone therapy to kill prostate cancer cells.
  • The treatment will activate men’s immune system, allowing the body to clear up cancer cells that may have survived hormone therapy alone.By using the immune system, the treatment may also provide men with long-term protection from prostate cancer.
  • By the end of the project, Dr Tait hopes there is enough evidence to take the new treatment to clinical trials.
We are really excited about this treatment. It has the potential to treat advanced prostate cancer for which treatment options are currently lacking, and, by activating the immune system, the treatment may give long-term, durable protection from prostate cancer.
Dr Stephen Tait

Advanced prostate cancer is treated with hormone therapy, which works at killing cancer cells for a period of time. However, the cancer will eventually learn to escape the treatment, and become resistant. Dr Tait and his team want to develop a therapy that kills cancer cells in a new way and prevents the development of resistance.

Turning the immune system on cancer cells

Cancer cells treated with hormone therapy usually destroy themselves using proteins called caspases. However, Dr Tait has previously found that if caspases are stopped from working, then cancer cells still die but they also activate an anti-cancer immune response. This is beneficial, as the immune system can then clear up all the cancer cells, even ones the treatment initially missed.

Because the treatment activates the immune system, it is also possible that it may provide men with long-term protection against prostate cancer. This method has been found to be very effective for other cancers, so Dr Tait hopes it can also be used to treat prostate cancer.

Putting a dual therapy to the test

The researchers will test their theory in mice and prostate cancer cells grown in the lab. They will use hormone therapy alongside caspase-blocking drugs that are being developed for other diseases, which will allow them to be approved for use in prostate cancer faster if the project is successful. The researchers will measure tumour growth, spread and resistance to the hormone therapy. The team will also investigate whether the new treatment does in fact activate the immune system, and will try to understand how this activation occurs.

Taking the treatment to trials

If the combined hormone and caspase-blocking therapy is effective, the researchers will aim to get more funding to conduct a clinical trial to test if the new treatment could work in men. They may also test their new treatment in combination with other existing treatments for advanced prostate cancer like radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Grant information

Reference - RIA17-ST2-002
Researcher - 
 Dr Stephen Tait
Institution -  University of Glasgow