Project No. 02

Prostate Cancer Stem Cells

Investigating prostate cancer to find safer therapies and better diagnoses

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S c r o l l   R i g h t

The Project

The Stem Cells project is working to repurpose off-the-shelf drugs to treat prostate cancer.

How?

After discovering that a signalling system in prostate cancer stem cells are overactive, which causes them to multiple uncontrollably and spread around the body. Dr Ahmed and his team are working to use existing drugs to inhibit this.

The Medicine

The Membrane Potential Regulating Compounds (MPRCs) are existing drugs that have been shown to inhibit the spread of cancer cells.

What could this achieve?

Because the drugs are already available to treat other illnesses, we know they are safe and very cheap, meaning they could be used to stop the spread of cancer cells relatively quickly.

The Future

Dr Ahmed hopes to identify three drugs to test in chemical trials. The wealth of data on these drugs mean the treatment could be available relatively soon.

The Project

The Stem Cells project is working to repurpose off-the-shelf drugs to treat prostate cancer.

How?

After discovering that a signalling system in prostate cancer stem cells are overactive, which causes them to multiple uncontrollably and spread around the body. Dr Ahmed and his team are working to use existing drugs to inhibit this.

The Medicine

The Membrane Potential Regulating Compounds (MPRCs) are existing drugs that have been shown to inhibit the spread of cancer cells.

What could this achieve?

Because the drugs are already available to treat other illnesses, we know they are safe and very cheap, meaning they could be used to stop the spread of cancer cells relatively quickly.

The Future

Dr Ahmed hopes to identify three drugs to test in chemical trials. The wealth of data on these drugs mean the treatment could be available relatively soon.

Project Start

May 2018

Research Facility

Centre for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine, King’s College London

Budget

£100,000/year

End

April 2023

What are cancer stem cells?

In the body, we have many different types of cell which do different kinds of work to help us grow, keep us healthy, and help us recover from illness and injury. Stem cells  are special cells because they are ‘undifferentiated,’ which means it’s possible for them to turn into any kind of cell.

Some of the cells in a tumour are cancer stem cells. Similar to normal stem cells, they have the ability to reproduce, and to become any kind of cancer cell. Current scientific thinking is that cancer stem cells drive the growth of tumours, and can be left behind after the rest of the cells in a tumour have been killed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy to “re-grow” the tumour.

Prostate cancer stem cells under a confocal microscope. Image by Dr Aamir Ahmed.

Prostate Cancer Research Centre funded researcher Dr Aamir Ahmed from King's College London talks about his work repurposing drugs used in other diseases to treat prostate cancer.

Aamir's Project

The research in Dr Ahmed’s group aims to translate fundamental knowledge of stem cells and cancer biology into therapies. The laboratory is particularly interested in the Wnt cell signaling pathway, which plays a key role in cancer and is also very important for the regulation of stem cells. Through research which was funded by the PCRC, Dr Ahmed discovered that Wnt pathway appeared to play an important role in prostate cancer.

His team are now aiming to translate their knowledge of Wnt signaling in prostate cancer into safer therapies and better diagnosis.

Dr Aamir Ahmed at his Prostate Cancer Stem Cell Research Lab at King's College, London

Novel prostate cancer therapy

Dr Ahmed and his group are investigating a new type of therapy for prostate cancer. They are using an approach called ‘drug repurposing,’ taking drugs which are already being used to treat other diseases (such as cardiac and neurological disorders) and testing them in cancer. The repurposed drugs Dr Ahmed is working with regulate the electrical activity across the cells and are termed membrane potential regulatory compounds (MPRCs). Cell division and growth in the prostate can be slowed down by MPRCs partly via the inhibition of Wnt signaling pathway. Interestingly, it has been suggested that patients prescribed some MPRCs to treat other ailments have lower incidence of prostate cancer.

Microscope

New biomarkers for prostate cancer

A major problem in the clinical management of prostate cancer is predicting which cancer is likely to be aggressive. Analysis of cancer tissue by pathologists can sometimes be aided by gene and protein ‘biomarkers’. By investigating the Wnt pathway and other genes and proteins in prostate cancer, Dr Ahmed and his team are developing an objective and quantitative method to identify new protein biomarkers to help prostate cancer diagnosis and prognosis. The work is ongoing and this method is now being applied to develop 14 new biomarkers and also computer aided techniques (such as machine learning) to predict the aggressiveness of the cancer. If successful, this could help doctors decide which treatment is best for individual patients.

What will this mean for prostate cancer patients?

Dr Ahmed’s team are working on drugs which, although never tested to treat prostate cancer before, are known to be safe in humans. This means that a new prostate cancer treatment could be tested and if successful, made available relatively quickly. These drugs could be useful not just for prostate cancer patients, but for treating other cancers too. The main benefits will be to patients, who will live longer and have better quality of life, but this approach could also substantially reduce the cost of treating cancer.

The Future

Dr Ahmed and his team are testing different MPRCs to identify which one inhibits the growth and metastasis of prostate cancer most effectively, and hope to soon have enough evidence to move to the next stage in the clinical development of MPRCs as a therapy for cancer. Dr Ahmed is also collaborating with data scientists and epidemiologists using large samples of health records to investigate if men who have taken MPRCs for other ailments are less likely to develop prostate cancer in the first place. This may lead to new ways of treating and perhaps, even preventing prostate cancer.

Collaborations and Partnerships

Scientific collaboration, sharing of ideas and resources is the lifeblood of research. Dr Ahmed collaborates extensively with academics at King’s College, across London Universities, UK, USA, Europe and Africa Asia (these include clinicians, pathologists and scientists) and also with industry (e.g. Sophion, Denmark).

Recent Scientific Articles

Quantitative Analysis of Seven New Prostate Cancer Biomarkers and the Potential Future of the ‘Biomarker Laboratory’.
Cao, K., Arthurs, C., Atta-Ul, A., Millar, M., Beltran, M., Neuhaus, J., Horn, L.C., Henrique, R., Ahmed, A., and Thrasivoulou, C. 2018, Diagnostics (Basel) 8.

Expression of ribosomal proteins in normal and cancerous human prostate tissue
Arthurs, C., Murtaza, B. N., Thomson, C., Dickens, K., Henrique, R., Patel, H. R. H., Beltran, M., Millar, M., Thrasivoulou, C. & Ahmed, A. Oct 2017 PL o S One 12, 10, e0186047

Intracellular Calcium Mobilization in Response to Ion Channel Regulators via a Calcium Induced Calcium Release Mechanism
Ahmed, A., Petrou, T., Olsen, H., Thrasivoulou, C., Masters, J. & Ashmore, J. 2016 Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 0, 0, p. 1-32 , JPET/2016/236695

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As a small charity, we can focus the majority of our funds on research.

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Support the prostate cancer stem cells project

Any donation you can make will help us fund this cutting-edge, life-saving research.

Because prostate cancer only kills in its later stages, the spread of cancerous cells around the body makes all the difference between success and failure in the treatment of prostate cancer. Every hour, a man is diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer.

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