A new generation of researchers joins the fight against prostate cancer

With seven new researchers taking up our Movember- funded  PhD studentships this year, we’re investing in the future of prostate cancer research.

The start of the new academic year brings seven new prostate cancer researchers into laboratories around the UK, as they start their three-year, Movember-funded PhD Studentships.  

Grace Cole, Mario de Piano, Flavia Fioretti, Maria Sadiq, Katrina Reilly, James Grey and Carmen Aguirre Hernandez will all be working in labs across the UK; taking very different approaches to help advance our understanding of prostate cancer and work towards discovering new treatments and diagnostic tools.

We’re really looking forward to hearing how these students get on over the next few years, and learning of their results and successes. Every experiment we do, and every result we get is another brick in the road towards better prostate cancer diagnosis and therapy. So the more trained scientists we have working to fill in the blanks, the quicker we’ll get there.

So what will these PhD students do for the next three years?

Grace Cole – delivering DNA where it counts

Grace will be working with Dr Helen McCarthy at Queens University, Belfast. She’s trying to develop a new system to deliver a DNA vaccine that works by ‘tricking’ the body’s immune system into attacking the cancer cells. Grace will experiment with wrapping the DNA in a coat made of short bits of protein called peptides to protect it on its way into the cell, to then deliver it through the skin via a patch. 

Mario de Piano - understanding the link between prostate cancer and metabolism

Mario will be building on the lab’s research into a link between how and why prostate cancer spreads and the way that fat is absorbed and broken down (metabolised) in the body.  Hewill try to use this knowledge to find a way to identify which tumours will be non-aggressive and not need treatment, and which tumours will become aggressive and will spread to other parts of the body if they’re not treated quickly. Mario will be supervised by Dr Claire Wells and Dr Meike Van Hemelrijck at King’s College, London.

James Grey – investigating androgen receptors

James will be working with prostate cancer expert, and Prostate Cancer UK grant holder Professor Craig Robson at the Northern Institute of Cancer Research in Newcastle. Professor Robson is interested in the molecular biology of prostate cancer (the nuts and bolts of what happens inside the cell); particularly the androgen receptor, and how it works.  Androgens are hormones, like testosterone, that bind to the androgen receptor within the cancer cell, helping the cancer to grow.Professor Robson’s new student, James, will investigate how a group of proteins called phosphatases influence this receptor, and whether developing drugs that change how the phosphatases work might also change how the androgen receptor acts and influences the cancer to grow and spread..

Flavia Fioretti – testing  a new drug for advanced prostate cancer

Flavia will be joining Dr Charlotte Bevan, who also holds a Prostate Cancer UK project grant. Flavia will test a new type of drug which could be used to stop the androgen receptor working after the tumour cells have become resistant to traditional hormone therapy. If successful, this new type of drug could go on to be tested in clinical trials to offer further treatment options for men who have reached the advanced stages of the disease. 

Maria Sadiq – Understanding cancer spread

In Bradford, Maria Sadiq will be working with Dr Klaus Pors to study a group of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases. Enzymes are proteins that can drive activity in the cell. There is thought to be a link between aldehyde dehydrogenases and cancer spread, but we don’t know a lot about the biology behind this yet. Maria will investigate whether these enzymes can be used as a tool to help diagnose aggressive prostate cancer.

Katrina Reilly – Helping cancer ‘stick’ in the same spot

Many scientists try to think outside the box, but Dr Mark Coles and his new student, Katrina, are thinking outside the tumour to try to understand how and why cancer spreads. There are molecules on the cell surface, called adhesion molecules that affect how cells contact each other and ‘stick’ together.  Adhesion molecules on cells surrounding the tumour (stromal cells) change when cancer cells spread from the primary tumour. Katrina will investigate whether drugs that target these adhesion molecules can prevent cancer spread.

Carmen Aguirre Hernandez – killing cancer cells with viruses

In London, Carmen will be joining Dr Gunnel Hallden to work on a new treatment for advanced prostate cancer.  She will investigate how to kill cancer cells with a virus that has been changed so that it no longer causes disease, but instead  enters cancer cells and kills them.  Since cancer cells multiply much faster than normal cells, Dr Hallden and Carmen hope that using this together with chemotherapy will provide an effective new treatment for advanced prostate cancer.

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