Scientists uncover new prostate cancer treatment hope

Our researchers are working on a potential new treatment for prostate cancer using low temperature plasmas (LTPs)

Cancer cell with DNA damage

In a ground-breaking study, scientists in our Departments of Biology and Physics found that cells grown from prostate cancer tissue could be destroyed by LTPs. The discovery paves the way for a more cost-effective alternative to existing radiotherapy and photodynamic (PDT) treatments.

Low temperature plasmas are formed by applying a high electric field across a gas using an electrode, which breaks down the gas to form plasma. This creates a complex, unique reactive environment containing high concentrations of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS).

The research was carried out by Adam Hirst, a PhD student at the York Plasma Institute supervised by Dr Fiona Frame and Professor Norman Maitland in the Department of Biology’s YCR Cancer Research Unit, and Dr Deborah O’Connell from our Department of Physics.

Radiotherapy

Adam said: “Despite continual improvement and refinement, long-term treatment for prostate cancer is still recognised as inadequate. In the case of early stage organ-confined tumours, patients may be treated with a focal therapy, for example cryotherapy, photodynamic therapy, or radiotherapy.”

“However, around a third of patients will experience recurrence of their disease following radiotherapy. This may be due to the inherent radio-resistance of a small fraction of the tumour – the cancer stem cells. Furthermore, numerous side effects are often experienced following treatment.”


PhD student Adam Hirst

The way cell death occurs when using LTP treatment is different from other therapies. The active agents in the LTP break up DNA and destroy cells by necrosis, where cell membranes are ruptured, resulting in cell death. This is different to some current therapies which cause apoptosis, where cells are prompted to die through natural mechanisms that can result in treatment resistance.

DNA damage

Adam added: “Through this research we have found that LTPs induce high levels of DNA damage, which leads in turn to a substantial reduction in colony forming ability, and ultimately necrotic cell death. Using human cell samples, we have presented the first experimental evidence promoting the potential of LTPs as a future treatment for patients with cancer that is confined to the prostate.”

The next stage for the researchers is to carry out trials on three-dimensional replica tumours. If the trials are successful, LTP could be used to treat cancer patients with 10 to 15 years.

Details of the study have been published in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC)

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...we have presented the first experimental evidence promoting the potential of LTPs as a future treatment for patients with cancer confined to the prostate.”

Adam Hirst
York Plasma Institute
Featured researcher
Dr Fiona Frame

Dr Fiona Frame

Research associate in the YCR Cancer Research Unit

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Featured researcher
Dr Deborah O’Connell

Dr Deborah O’Connell

Leads a research group in the area of low-temperature plasmas and their applications with a particular emphasis on plasma medicine

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Featured researcher
Norman Maitland

Norman Maitland

Professor of Molecular Biology

Director of the YCR Cancer Research Unit, Professor Maitland is renowned for his his ground-breaking research on cancer stem cells.

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Publications

  • Low temperature plasma treatment induces DNA damage leading to necrotic cell death in primary prostate epithelial cells is published in British Journal of Cancer

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