A researcher at Queen’s University Belfast has been awarded over £280,000 from Prostate Cancer UK to develop the first-ever personalised radiotherapy treatment for advanced prostate cancer based on men’s genes.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, affecting one in eight men in their lifetime. It commonly spreads to the bones, which can cause pain, reduce mobility, and can ultimately be fatal.
Although a type of radiotherapy called radium-233 can be an effective treatment for cancer that has spread to the bones, some men benefit more than others and this seems to be linked to their genes.
In her project, Dr Victoria Dunne, from the Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research at Queen’s, will study genes involved in repairing damage to DNA to understand how they influence men’s response to radium-223. She will explore whether combining radium-223 with drugs that stop cancer cells from being able to repair their DNA can improve its effectiveness. If successful, this new treatment combination could be targeted at men who carry specific genetic changes, helping them live a longer, better quality life.
Dr Dunne said: “For the first time, this research could allow us to personalise radiotherapy treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer based on their genes. By using men’s genes to select the best treatment for their cancer, we could significantly increase the number of men living longer with advanced disease and improve their quality of life.
“By the end of the project, we hope to be in a position to test this in a clinical trial so it can be incorporated into clinical practice as soon as possible.”
Simon Grieveson, Major Research Investments Lead at Prostate Cancer UK said: “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treatment doesn’t always deliver the best results for men, which is why research like this is so important.
“We’re delighted to be supporting Dr Dunne as she unpicks the genetics behind prostate cancer and uses this information to increase the effectiveness of treatments by tailoring them to an individual’s genetic make-up. This could revolutionise the way we deliver radiotherapy and give thousands of men valuable extra time with their loved ones.”
Dr Dunne has been awarded the grant through Prostate Cancer UK’s fellowship scheme, which gives promising early-career researchers the chance to pursue their own research goals and accelerate their career trajectories. As part of the project, Dr Dunne will travel to Oslo University Hospital in Norway, where she will work with an international team of researchers who are leading the way in the development of novel radiotherapy treatments.
More than 9,000 men are living with and after prostate cancer in Northern Ireland. Despite enormous progress in testing and treatment over the past 25 years, sadly one man still dies from the disease every 45 minutes.