Using a newly discovered type of genetic material to unlock treatments for prostate cancer

What you need to know

  • Advanced prostate cancer is treated with hormone therapy, but eventually becomes resistant, leaving men with few remaining treatment options.
  • We’re funding Professor Bevan to build on previous work on microRNAs, a type of genetic material which might hold the key to stopping resistance.
  • Her research could identify new drug targets and ways to monitor how the disease is progressing.
As microRNAs alter during cancer development, we believe they may be key to developing new, microRNA-based therapies. These could revolutionise treatment of men with advanced disease, improving their quality of life as well as life expectancy.
Professor Charlotte Bevan

Getting to the bottom of hormone therapy resistance

Advanced prostate cancer is treated with hormone therapy, which blocks the hormones like testosterone that drive the cancer’s growth. Unfortunately, this stops working after a while, as the cancer changes to get around this treatment. Professor Bevan and Dr Fletcher want to understand how this happens, so that new drugs can be designed to stop prostate cancers becoming resistant to hormone therapy and extend the lives of men with advanced prostate cancer.

New kind of genetic material may hold key to resistance

Following previous research funded by us, the team are particularly interested in a recently discovered type of genetic material called microRNAs in prostate cancer. MicroRNAs are known to help control testosterone signalling, and the types of microRNAs in men change as prostate cancer progresses, suggesting microRNAs might contribute to tumours becoming hormone therapy resistant.

Finding new drug targets to stop hormone therapy resistance in its tracks

In this project, the team will investigate the role of microRNAs further, by comparing which types are involved in normal, and abnormal, testosterone signalling. They will also look at which microRNAs are present in men at different stages of prostate cancer and different levels of drug resistance. Together, this will give them a good picture of which microRNAs are most important for cancers becoming resistant, and so which would make good targets for new drugs.

Finally, the team will test chemicals that target their identified microRNAs in prostate cancer tumours grown in the lab and in mice, to see if they can alter cancer progression or the development of hormone therapy resistance.

More studies needed to bring new treatments to men

By the end of the project, the team will have a much better picture of how microRNAs control testosterone signalling, and how this changes in hormone therapy-resistant prostate cancers. This information could be used to help predict the progression of men’s prostate cancer, based on what kinds of microRNAs they have, and to design new drugs for advanced prostate cancer. The team’s chemical tests are the first step for this drug design, but future testing and clinical trials will be needed before microRNA-based drugs are available to men.

Grant information

Reference - RIA17-ST2-017
Researcher -  Professor Charlotte Bevan and Dr Claire Fletcher
Institution -  Imperial College London
Award - £593,128.00