Rethinking the approach to prostate cancer diagnosis

Prostate cancer kills 3000 men in Australia every year, yet we still do not have a reliable way to provide an early or accurate diagnosis.

Professor Doug Brooks has been awarded more than $1 million by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to try to change that situation.

He and his research team are examining prostate cancer cell biology to try to find more specific biomarkers that could lead to better treatment plans and reduce the risk and burden of men being misdiagnosed or over treated.

“It’s a large grant and we are trying to revolutionise prostate cancer diagnosis and prognosis” he said. “Our new technology should allow us, for the first time, to diagnose patients accurately, and to enable them to be told whether they have prostate cancer, how advanced it is, and whether they need some radical intervention – at an early stage.”

The challenge is to find an alternative to the conventional PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test, which only detects certain types of tumours and was not originally developed as a diagnostic marker.

“Our philosophy has been to take a step back and look at the cell biology and to see if we can find something that is consistently changed – in gene expression and protein expression – which gives us more specific biomarkers.” The early signs are very positive.

Prof Brooks brings to the task more than 30 years’ experience in medical research and expertise in developing practical applications in biochemical medicine, most recently as leader of the Institute’s Mechanisms in Cell Biology and Disease Research Group.

The Group focuses on the endocytic network (endosomes and lysosomes) and its critical role in cell function. Endosomes and lysosomes are directly involved in a group of genetic diseases called lysosomal storage disorders, as well as other disease states, including heart disease, cancer, bone disease and bacterial infection.

The Group’s main research themes include cancer biology, immunity and live cell imaging, and are closely aligned with the national research priorities of Promoting and Maintaining Good Health, A Healthy Start to Life, Aging well and Preventative Health Care.