The Province of Yorkshire North and East Ridings have helped to fund research, which has been published in the British Journal of Cancer, alongside The Masonic Samaritan Fund, Yorkshire Cancer Research, Prostate Cancer UK and the British Columbia Cancer Agency Strategic Priorities Fund

Medical research scientists at the University of York have found a way of distinguishing between fatal prostate cancer and manageable cancer, which could reduce unnecessary surgeries and radiotherapy.

A recent study showed that for every single life saved through surgical intervention more than 25 men were unnecessarily treated with surgery or radiotherapy. Success rates could be hindered by treating all prostate cancers in the same way. A team at the University of York and the University of British Columbia in Canada have designed a test that can pick out life-threatening prostate cancers, with up to 92% accuracy.

Professor Norman Maitland, from the University of York’s Department of Biology and director of Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: ‘Unnecessary prostate treatment has both physical consequences for patients and their families, but is also a substantial financial burden on the NHS, where each operation will cost around £10,000. 

‘Cancers that are contained in the prostate, however, have the potential to be ‘actively monitored’ which is not only cheaper but has far fewer negative side-effects in patients with non-life threatening cancer.’

It is now understood that to find the differing levels of cancer, scientists have to identify genes that have been altered in different cancer types.

Professor Norman Maitland added: ‘In some diseases, such as cancer, genes can be switched to an opposite state, causing major health issues and a threat to life. To put it another way: how do we distinguish the tiger cancer cells from the pussycat cancer cells when there are millions of patterns of chemical alterations going on, many of which will be perfectly healthy?’

Dr Davide Pellacani, who began these studies in York, before moving to the University of British Columbia, said: ‘Using this computer analysis, not only could we see which tissue samples had cancer and which didn’t, but also which cancers were dangerous and which ones less so.’

To take this method out of the laboratory, the team are now investigating a further trial with new cancer samples and hope to involve a commercial partner to allow this to be used for patients being treated in the NHS.

Pioneering cancer research

The Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) has donated £47,500 to Yorkshire Cancer Research (YCR) following the Bradford Crocus Cancer Appeal, which enabled the University of Bradford’s Institute of Cancer Therapeutics (ICT) to purchase a proteomics mass spectrometer. The money will fund a technician to operate the equipment over the next four years. 

It is hoped that the technician will play a vital role in discovering pioneering cancer treatments, using the machine to identify tiny amounts of proteins found in cancer cells. Researchers will then determine whether these proteins can be used as biomarkers for the early detection of cancer, targets for new therapies, or indicators of a patient’s likely response to current treatment. 

‘We are incredibly grateful to the MSF for their generous support,’ said YCR chief executive Charles Rowett. ‘The grant will play an extremely important part in helping us to bring pioneering cancer treatments to the people of Yorkshire and beyond.’

Published in Masonic Samaritan Fund

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