A Saviour of Men

Professor Norman J Maitland PhD.
Director of The Cancer Research Unit
Professor of Molecular Biology at York University.

Distinguishing fatal prostate cancer from ‘manageable’ cancer is now possible
Medical research scientists at the University of York have found a way of distinguishing between fatal prostate cancer and manageable cancer, which could reduce unnecessary surgeries and radiotherapy.
A recent study showed that for every single life saved through surgical intervention more than 25 men were unnecessarily treated with surgery or radiotherapy. Success rates could be hindered by treating all prostate cancers in the same way. A team at the University of York and the University of British Columbia, Canada have designed a test that can pick out life-threatening prostate cancers, with up to 92% accuracy.

Professor Norman Maitland, from the University of York’s Department of Biology and director of Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: ‘Unnecessary prostate treatment has both physical consequences for patients and their families, but is also a substantial financial burden on the NHS, where each operation will cost around £10,000.
‘Cancers that are contained in the prostate, however, have the potential to be ‘actively monitored’ which is not only cheaper but has far fewer negative side-effects in patients with non-life threatening cancer.’
It is now understood that to find the differing levels of cancer, scientists have to identify genes that have been altered in different cancer types.
Professor Maitland said: ‘In some diseases, such as cancer, genes can be switched to an opposite state, causing major health issues and a threat to life. To put it another way: how do we distinguish the tiger cancer cells from the pussycat cancer cells when there are millions of patterns of chemical alterations going on, many of which will be perfectly healthy?’

Dr Davide Pellacani, who began these studies in York, before moving to the University of British Columbia, said: ‘Using this computer analysis, not only could we see which tissue samples had cancer and which didn’t, but also which cancers were dangerous and which ones less so.’
To take this method out of the laboratory, the team are now investigating a further trial with new cancer samples and hope to involve a commercial partner to allow this to be used for patients being treated in the NHS. The research published in the British Journal of Cancer was funded by the Province of Yorkshire North and East Ridings, The Masonic Samaritan Fund, Yorkshire Cancer Research, Prostate Cancer UK and the British Columbia Cancer Agency Strategic Priorities Fund.
There are no words to express our gratitude to Professor Maitland and his team, for dedicating their life’s work to ensuring that men around the world have a better chance of surviving this insidious disease.

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