Understanding key regulator molecules important to the progression of advanced prostate cancer

Background to the project

The Androgen Receptor is a protein that is present in cells in the prostate, and is closely linked to prostate cancer development, maintenance and progression. The Androgen Receptor is activated when hormones called androgens, for example testosterone, bind to it. Hormone therapy works by preventing androgens from reaching the Androgen Receptor, however, over time the cancer cells often find a way around this. The resultant resistant form of prostate cancer is very difficult to treat, so new treatment options are needed.

What they set out to do

The study funded a PhD student, James Grey, to investigate a group of proteins called phosphatases, and how they can regulate Androgen Receptor activation.  He set out to grow prostate cancer cells in the lab and test the effect of changing the amounts of different phosphatases. He looked at over 600 clinical prostate cancer samples to see how much each phosphatase was produced. It was thought that by understanding the mechanisms of Androgen Receptor regulation, it would allow them to identify potential drug targets for advanced prostate cancer.

What they found out

In this research project they were able to identify a phosphatase as a new regulator of prostate cancer cells that when removed significantly reduced PSA production in prostate cancer cells and slowed cancer cell growth. Unfortunately, there is no drug that is able to block this regulator, but through this research they were able to identify similar regulators that do have drugs that can block them. Using these drugs in prostate cancer cells they were able to show that it was possible to reduce PSA levels and cancer cell growth, and so it’s worth studying these drugs further.

How this will benefit men 

The drugs recently identified from this project have shown some promising preliminary results, but a wider range of tests need to be performed to know which patients will respond to this form of treatment and how safe it is. We have since awarded James Grey a travelling fellowship award to join a lab in the Netherlands where he can learn the techniques needed to carry out these tests.

Grant information

Institution - Newcastle University, Newcastle
Researcher - Professor Craig Robson
Grant award - £100,330
Duration - 2013-2016
Reference - S12-018 Robson