Posted on 12 August 2011
The five year funding programme will allow the YCR Cancer Research Unit in the Department of Biology to explore the exact molecular properties that allow prostate cancer stem cells – widely regarded as the ‘root’ cause of all prostate cancers in men – to ultimately survive, spread and resist treatment.
Only recently have scientists been able to isolate stem cells from most of the major cancers and their existence is giving rise to new ideas about how to treat and even cure cancers
Professor Norman Maitland
A team of scientists, led by cancer specialist, Professor Norman Maitland, will use the funding to look specifically at the DNA sequence of prostate cancer stem cells to determine for the first time what is missing from the sequence.
The award follows a rigorous review of the YCR Cancer Research Unit by a group of eminent scientists from the UK and across the world.
In co-operation with York-based drug development company, Pro-cure Therapeutics, the Unit is aiming to make a new generation of cancer drugs to specifically target prostate cancer stem cells and thus tackle the root cause of the disease.
Professor Maitland said: “Only recently have scientists been able to isolate stem cells from most of the major cancers and their existence is giving rise to new ideas about how to treat and even cure cancers.
“In York we have developed the means to obtain these cells specifically from prostate cancers, now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, and the properties of prostate cancer stem cells do indeed suggest that they form this treatment resistant core.”
Professor Maitland said his team were aiming to explore the molecular properties that allow the cancer stem cells to survive and resist treatment, using several different strategies.
“We will use the knowledge gained from the human genome project to look at the DNA sequence of the cells and more importantly to find any missing pieces from the sequence. We will also examine the arrangement of the proteins that coat the DNA and how they are modified – a gene control mechanism known as epigenetics,” he said.
“We will also further develop our laboratory models of prostate cancer to test current and new treatments including radiation and drugs on cancer stem cells. Using these methods we hope to identify survival mechanisms of the cancer stem cells so we can develop a new generation of treatments to undermine and kill them.”
Yorkshire Cancer Research Science Liaison Officer, Dr Kathryn Scott said: “Professor Maitland is recognised as a world leader in prostate cancer stem cell research and Yorkshire Cancer Research is immensely proud to support this ground breaking work.”