A golden opportunity: enhancing radiotherapy outcomes for men with localised prostate cancer

What you need to know

  • Radiotherapy can be effective at treating prostate cancer, but in some men the cancer may return and the treatment can also damage the healthy tissue surrounding the tumour.
  • Dr Coulter from Queen's University Belfast is developing a way to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment by making the cancer cells more susceptible to the effects of the radiation.
  • In this project, he will develop an implant which releases tiny gold particles that can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy.
Around 20-30% of men diagnosed with intermediate to high-risk localised cancers go onto develop recurrent disease. This is a statistic we are confident we can improve.
Dr Jonathan Coulter

Finding new ways to improve radiotherapy

Radiotherapy can be an extremely effective approach for treating early-stage prostate cancer. However, some men can develop resistance, and some can experience debilitating side effects.

Tiny gold particles (called gold nanoparticles) can be used to make cancer cells more sensitive to the effects of radiotherapy, making them easier to destroy.  Previous studies have shown that using gold nanoparticles in this way can improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment. However, it is difficult to get them into the tumour and into the cancer cells to do their job.

Using tiny gold particles to make cancer cells more sensitive to radiotherapy

Dr Coulter and his team have designed a new form of gold nanoparticle which is better at getting to the prostate cancer cells. They have also developed prototype biodegradable implants which are designed to continually release these gold nanoparticles during a man’s course of radiotherapy.

This implant also makes use of a drug delivery approach developed by Professor Helen McCarthy, and builds upon a prior PhD studentship we awarded to Jonathan Coulter back in 2014.

In this project, they’ll be testing and refining their implant to make sure it can release the right amount of gold nanoparticles directly to the cancer cells. The team will then test their new implant in combination with radiotherapy to see if it is effective at increasing the sensitivity of the prostate cancer to this form of treatment.

Building evidence to test the treatment in men

By the end of the project, the team will have a better picture of how the implant works in releasing the gold nanoparticles and whether this implant makes the cancer more vulnerable to radiotherapy. This information will help them build a case to test their new treatment in men with prostate cancer.


Grant information

Reference – RIA19-ST2-008

Researcher – Dr Jonathan Coulter

Institution – Queen’s University Belfast

Award - £ 376,156