Prostate Cancer breakthrough by UU scientists

Dr Declan McKenna - Lecturer in Haematology. 9Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)
Dr Declan McKenna - Lecturer in Haematology. 9Photo: Nigel McDowell/Ulster University)

A major breakthrough by leading Ulster University scientists into prostate cancer has revealed the reason why many men may suffer a relapse within two years of starting one of the most frequently used treatments for the disease.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in Northern Ireland. Around 1,000 men in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year and the five year survival rate is just under 90 per cent.

Ulster University’s research findings, published in the British Journal of Cancer revealed that some men who receive a hormone treatment known as androgen

deprivation therapy can suffer a relapse; not because the treatment is ineffective but because a low level of oxygen in the tumour can trigger genetic changes that accelerate the growth of new cancer cells.

Ulster University’s team is now currently studying the benefits combined drug therapy can bring in targeting the low oxygen cells and prevent tumour growth

following the hormone therapy.

Ulster University’s Dr Declan McKenna said: “Low oxygen in prostate tumours is a well accepted finding but our research now confirms that various genes can react to those low oxygen levels and actively promote tumour development.

“This is a hugely significant advance in the global battle against prostate cancer as it means we can focus efforts on effectively targeting this problem

to enhance future treatment options for patients.

“At Ulster University we are now investigating how we can develop and tailor improved treatment for individual prostate cancer patients through combined

drug therapy, with the ultimate aim of enhancing the effectiveness of the hormone therapy and reducing the incidence of relapse.”

Ulster University’s research was funded by the Department for Employment and Learning, and Prostate Cancer UK with support from the Movember Foundation.