Image of prostate specific antigen test

University’s major funding boost for research into advanced prostate cancer

Friday, 28 April 2023

Scientists at the University of Nottingham have received more than £1million in support for research that aims to develop new treatments for advanced prostate cancer and to train the next generation of prostate cancer research leaders.

The work, being led by Professor Nigel Mongan, in the university’s Biodiscovery Institute, aims to find out how some prostate cancer develops resistance to current hormone therapies and whether improved hormone therapies or new drugs could be used to prevent, delay or reverse this resistance, helping men with prostate cancer to live longer, healthier lives. The research team includes Drs Jennie Jeyapalan and Corinne Woodcock who work with colleagues in the USA, Sweden and Austria to deliver impactful research.

The news comes as some of the world’s leading prostate cancer scientists are due to gather in Nottingham alongside representatives from local patient support groups for an international symposium on Wednesday 3 May, where they will present their latest research findings.

We are enormously grateful for the support of Prostate Cancer UK, Prostate Cancer Foundation and the John Black Charitable Foundation, and private individuals, who are enabling this important research and the career development of outstanding early career researchers.
Professor Nigel Mongan, Biodiscovery Institute

He added: "For these reasons I am optimistic that in the future patients with prostate cancer will live longer and healthier lives.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with more than 52,000 men in the UK diagnosed with prostate cancer every year on average, resulting in more than 12,000 deaths. 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, which rises to 1 in 4 for Black men.

The Midlands is badly affected by late prostate cancer referrals and diagnoses: 1 in every 6 men there with the disease at an advanced stage that is sadly incurable, compared to 1 in 8 in London. In Nottingham in 2020, 577 men were diagnosed with and 206 died from prostate cancer.

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The university’s research will be supported by a grant of more than £259,000 from the charity Prostate Cancer UK and almost £195,000 from Prostate Cancer Foundation and John Black Charitable Foundation. This money has been matched by generous support from the university and private donors which is enabling this ambitious program of research

Prostate Cancer UK has funded this project as part of the charity’s Research Innovation Awards (RIAs), a £3m investment across seven UK institutions in the latest advancements to defeat prostate cancer.  

Over the past year alone, Prostate Cancer UK has invested over £9.5m into research that will save and improve men’s lives.

Professor Nigel Mongan, of the Biodiscovery Institute, looking at a sample through a microscope

Simon Grieveson, Assistant Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “We urgently need newer, and more effective, treatments for men living with advanced prostate cancer, so that they can live as long — and feel as healthy — as possible.

“Existing hormone therapies like enzalutamide can help keep the disease under control, sometimes for many years, but cancer cells eventually become resistant to them and continue growing.

“I’m delighted that Prostate Cancer UK has recently awarded over £250,000 to continue supporting Professor Mongan’s vital research to establish how this treatment resistance occurs, to investigate novel therapies which may delay, reverse or even prevent this resistance, and ultimately to extend and improve men’s lives.”

Patient representative Robert Oldroyd, of West Bridgford, Nottingham, said he is privileged to have seen prostate cancer research from a number of different angles – as an ex-patient, working with men with prostate cancer, as a patient representative on a number of clinical trials, and evaluating research proposals for funding, from a patient point of view, for Prostate Cancer UK.He added: “As a patient treated twenty years ago, I marvel at the sophistication of diagnostic methods and treatments available now, including those for men with advanced incurable prostate cancer. Yet the number of men dying each year remains stubbornly high, in part because many men are reluctant to alert their GP to problems.

“This symposium, bringing together some of the world’s finest prostate cancer scientists, will shed light on some of the most intractable barriers to conquering this nasty disease in men. Their dedication and skills are appreciated by men around the world. None of their work would be possible, though, without the generosity of charities, individuals and universities.”

Early diagnosis improves outcomes for patients and there are good treatments including surgery or radiation therapy. However, for too many, the disease returns post-treatment and progresses to an incurable state.

Hormone therapies like enzalutamide work by stopping prostate cancer cells from using the hormone testosterone, which the cells need to grow. It blocks the part of the cancer cell that would normally respond to testosterone, so that when testosterone arrives at the cancer cell, it can’t kick-start the growth processes.

However, Professor Mongan has found evidence that prostate cancer cells eventually adapt to hormone therapy by developing differently shaped components that cannot be blocked by enzalutamide and the treatment stops working.

Professor Mongan and his team believe that prostate cancer cells do this by adapting a process called RNA methylation to their advantage. RNA methylation can change how the instructions for making parts of a cell are used. The team is testing their theory by studying RNA methylation in cells from men with prostate cancer as well as in lab-grown prostate cancer cells – and whether differences in RNA methylation are linked to those cells no longer responding to treatment.

The team is looking at whether drugs that already target RNA methylation in other types of cancer can be used to prevent or reverse resistance to hormone therapy in cancer cells, and potentially extend the benefits of these treatments, bringing hope to men affected by this terrible disease.

Emma Thorne - Head of News
Phone: 0115 846 8092

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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