Developing better diagnostics for prostate cancer

UAlberta researcher receives $1.4M grant to develop tests that can help determine need for prostate cancer treatment.


A University of Alberta medical researcher and his team will help move prostate cancer research from the lab to the clinic, thanks to a $1.4-million Movember Translation Acceleration Grant (TAG) from Prostate Cancer Canada.

John Lewis, a researcher in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, leads a nine-member multidisciplinary team that was one of three research groups across the country to receive TAG funding to develop diagnostic tests relating to prostate cancer.

“This competition is addressing what I consider to be the biggest unmet need in prostate cancer research: the discovery of new tests to predict which patients will suffer from aggressive disease and those who won’t,” said Lewis, a professor in the Department of Oncology and the Frank and Carla Sojonky Chair in Prostate Cancer Research.

Lewis has spent much of his career studying metastasis, the process whereby cancer cells spread throughout the body from the original disease site. Metastasis, he says, is the cause of more than 90 per cent of cancer-related deaths.

Lewis's team have identified two proteins—CD151 and ALCAM—by studying the genes and other factors that cause some cancerous cells to move while others remain stagnant. These proteins undergo a biochemical switch when the cancerous cells start to move through the body. When detected in a patient’s tissues, the proteins act as biomarkers to determine whether a patient’s cancer will be aggressive.

“Many men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer get aggressive treatment,” Lewis says. “The main benefit of these tests will be sparing those patients with non-aggressive disease from treatments that cause severe side-effects.”

Bharati Bapat, a researcher with the Lunenfeld-Tannenbaum Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and Robert Day, a researcher with the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, have also received funding to develop diagnostic testing.

“We are extremely proud to fund research projects that have a direct impact on prostate cancer treatment and survival rates,” said Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada. “The winning teams have developed outstanding proposals that we hope will have an immediate effect on treatment option choices and early detection of aggressive forms of prostate cancer.”

The TAG grant funding began April 1, 2014, and will be in effect for three years.

“Typically, funds to take new findings and put them into practice are hard to come by,” said Lewis. “This is particularly exciting because we have an aggressive timeline, we have a clear goal and we hope to make a meaningful impact on patients.”