The Scientists

Dr Aamir Ahmed

Professor Fiona Watt 

Mr Terry Petrou

The objective

Prostate Cancer growth is driven by a small fraction of the cancer - the Prostate Cancer Stem Cells. This research is identifying the prostate cancer stem cells so that we can target and kill them.

About the research

In every prostate cancer, there is a small fraction of cells that drive the growth and spread of the cancer – the cancer stem cells. Cancer stem cells are very similar to all the other cancer cells and consequently are difficult to identify.

Our scientists set out to try to identify prostate cancer stem cells, because if they could target and kill the cancer stem cells, the cancer might be cured.

Dr Aamir Ahmed, working in the PCRC laboratory, found that one particular protein (called Wnt) is present in much higher levels in the prostate cancer stem cells. Signals from Wnt switch on cell growth.

Dr Ahmed then discovered that some drugs that alter the transfer of chemicals into the cell also inhibit Wnt signalling. These drugs are called membrane potential regulating compounds (MPRCs) and potentially might slow down prostate cancer cell growth.

A patent was obtained for novel therapy of prostate cancer using MPRCs. The first step is to test the compounds in the laboratory to select the one that is most likely to inhibit the growth of prostate cancer cells – that work is in progress.

One advantage of the MPRCs is that they have already been used in people to treat other diseases. Consequently, they will not have to go through the extensive testing of drugs usually required before they are used as treatments.

Significance

The growth, spread and relapse of prostate cancer are controlled by prostate cancer stem cells. The cancer stem cells are a very small fraction of the cancer, so if we could target and kill these cells, potentially we could slow the cancer down and perhaps even cure it.