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New project in Edinburgh could help tens of thousands of prostate cancer patients in future

A special project to identify whether a molecule known to be responsible for the muscle-wasting condition experienced by over half of all patients with advanced prostate cancer is in fact associated with the survival of the cancer itself, gets underway in Edinburgh this week.

Dr Jim Ross, who comes from Kilmarnock, has been awarded a grant from the Association for International Cancer Research (AICR) to investigate the role of Proteolysis Inducing Factor - or PIF - in prostate cancer spread following the discovery by US scientists of a link with advanced breast cancer.

Dr Ross of the Tissue Injury and Repair Group at the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School explains: "Over half of all patients with advanced prostate cancer will develop cancer cachexia which is the name of the syndrome of weight loss, loss of appetite and anaemia associated with advanced malignancy.”

"The weight loss of cancer cachexia is associated with a lower survival rate and poorer response to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. And, with even a five per cent weight loss it leads to a worse prognosis than for a cancer patient of normal weight."

Recently, scientists have discovered that starving cancer cells of oxygen will cause many tumour cells to perish. However, paradoxically, the hardiest of prostate cancer cells will survive these harsh conditions and flourish. It is now thought that low oxygen levels allow the selection of prostate cancer cells which become more aggressive and eventually lead to spread of the cancer to other sites, rendering the disease incurable.

Adds Dr Ross: " PIF has also been identified as permitting survival of breast cancer cells when they are grown in the low oxygen conditions present in a tumour and may allow these cancer cells to survive, divide and spread. Breast cancers not able to produce PIF are less likely to be able to survive these conditions and are less aggressive. Recently, PIF has also been found in some prostate cancers and our study will investigate its role in allowing the survival of prostate cancer cells in an oxygen-reduced environment."

According to Dr Mark Matfield, AICR's scientific adviser if PIF is found to support survival of prostate cancer cells then it would be a good target for future treatment of a cancer which currently claims the lives of more than 10,000 UK men every year.

"Dr Ross and his colleagues, Professor Kenneth Fearon and Drs Grant Stewart and Fouad Habib, will study improved methods of detecting PIF in cells and bodily secretions such as urine. The hope is to be able to produce a new detection method and to target these patients with novel drugs to treat weight-loss associated with cancer."

Derek Napier, AICR's Chief Executive says the three-year grant, worth more than £100,000, has been given in line with the charity's policy of funding the most novel approaches to research worldwide. “This is an exciting project set to tackle one of the most challenging problems facing cancer researchers. However, these are early days and it could be some time before it is known whether it will lead to effective drugs to help treat cancer patients,” he cautions.

Susan Osborne | alfa
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