When Marty McFly went back to the future (the second time), he saw the people of 2015 flying on hoverboards and running their cars on household waste. While we might not have achieved this vision of efficient living, there’s no doubt that the world is a very different place from what it was 20-odd years ago, when the internet wasn’t in every house and mobile phones were the size of small dogs. Back then we saw a peak in the number of men dying from prostate cancer and new prostate cancer drugs like abiraterone were in the very earliest phases of development.
Nowadays, we know much more about prostate cancer than we used to, and we know that thanks to treatments like abiraterone men are living longer with advanced prostate cancer. However, we also know that the battle isn’t over. So today, as we launch the UK’s first ever Centres of Excellence for prostate cancer research, which bring together some of Britain’s biggest brains across leading research institutions to work on key areas of prostate cancer research, it seems like a good time to look forward to what the next 20 years might bring.
As we don’t have access to a time-travelling DeLorean (I couldn’t resist another Back to the Future reference) we asked our experts what differences they hoped to see for men with prostate cancer by 2034.
Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK says, “I’d like to think that within 20 years, we’ll be seeing ‘lumpectomies’ for localised prostate cancer, like for breast cancer – so that just the cancerous areas can be removed. It’s not beyond the realms of imagination that this would reduce side effects, because less healthy tissue would be damaged.”
Professor David Waugh, Scientific Co-Director of the Manchester-Belfast Centre of Excellence says, “We have to believe that research discoveries will lead to a very different environment for men with prostate cancer in 20 years time. Research conducted in large inter-institutional programmes, like the Centre of Excellence, will deliver new tests and improved therapies to increase survival and quality-of-life of many prostate cancer patients.”
Meanwhile, Professor Joe O’Sullivan, Clinical Co-Director of the Manchester-Belfast Centre of Excellence says, “Within the next 20 years, we’ll be able to look at the molecular profile of, and genetic information from, a man’s tumour and know which treatment he would respond best to – drugs, surgery or radiotherapy – and even which drug or what dose of radiation to use. We’ll not only get better cure rates, but also more convenient treatments with fewer side effects.
This is the type of research the Centre of Excellence grant will allow us to do.”
For me, I think the most exciting thing about the Centres of Excellence, and the thing that will really speed up the journey from initial idea to laboratory experiments and then changes in clinical practice, is the spirit of collaboration that’s fuelled the whole idea of the centres and their commitment to tackling prostate cancer. Partnerships between scientific institutes, hospitals and laboratories, prostate cancer experts and scientists from different disciplines, and between us as a charity and researchers, really underpin the whole concept of the Centres of Excellence, and will be a fundamental part of how they work.
This promises great things for the future, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the scientists in the Centres of Excellence won’t be making these discoveries entirely from scratch. They’ll build on work they’ve already started, and even bring ideas and techniques that have already proved promising in other cancer types to bear on unanswered questions in prostate cancer research.
We can take an example from the London Centre of Excellence as a demonstration of building new ideas on a solid foundation of prostate cancer expertise. Professor Ros Eeles will be leading the Profile study as part of the London Centre of Excellence, which is based on extensive work that’s already been completed.
The Profile study will look at men at higher risk of prostate cancer (for example those with a family history of the disease) and look at the results from screening these men alongside information about their genetic profile to see whether this can predict who is at risk of aggressive disease. Being able to identify men who are likely to develop aggressive disease early on would be a huge leap towards reducing deaths from prostate cancer.
The work we’re doing today, both as part of both large programmes like the Movember Centres of Excellence and in individual laboratories, will mean that the world will look completely different for a man diagnosed with prostate cancer in twenty years. And who knows? We may not even need to wait that long.
You can read more about the research we’re funding on our website.