Friday, February 5, 2010

Cork Scientists Make Progress in Battle Against Prostate Cancer

Scientists based at the Cork Cancer Research Centre (CCRC) at UCC have announced details of a vaccine that they are working on that allows a person's own immune system fight off prostate cancer cells.

Prostate cancer causes 700 deaths each year and arises when cells of the prostate gland (part of the male reproductive system) change and disrupt the proper functioning of the gland. It is known that the risk of getting prostate cancer increases with age, family history of prostate cancer, your ethnicity, a diet heavy in red meat and fat and light on green vegetables.

For example, according to the Irish Cancer Society, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer are over 50. African-American and African-Caribbean men are also more at risk than other groups.

The genetic component of prostate cancer is interesting. A study of identical twins in Sweden, Denmark and Finland in 2000 have shown that 40 % of prostate cancer risk can be explained by inherited factors.

The study looked at historical data on a total of about 45,000 pairs of twins and determined how many were affected by a variety of cancers, including prostate cancer and whether or not their twin was also affected. Such twin studies are very important for understanding what role our genetics plays in disease development as well as the distribution of various traits and characteristics.

As identical twins are genetically identical, they are a very important source of knowledge for researchers.

Now, the researchers at the CCRC have developed a prostate cancer vaccine using DNA to stimulate the individuals immune system and prime it for future attack by cancerous cells. In simple terms, it gives the body a 'heads-up' as to what a prostate cancer cell might look like and ensures that the person's immune system is ready to fight it.

Dr. Mark Tangney and his team have published the research in the peer-reviewed journal Genetic Vaccines and Therapy under the title, Optimised electroporation mediated DNA vaccination for treatment of prostate cancer.

The vaccine treatment was shown to significantly delay the appearance of further tumours after the main prostate tumour had been removed by surgery and led to prolonged survival mice when the vaccine was tested on them. The team have also established that a four-dose application of the vaccine provides the highest protection from tumour protection.

The vaccine is yet to be tested in pre-clinical trials and it may be another 7 or 8 years before it is available to patients.


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