Prostate Cancer research in Tassie vital for the future

Thursday, 24 September 2020 - 1:49pm

The prevalence of prostate cancer presents an enormous challenge to Tasmanian men, their loved ones and our local health system. Approximately 500 Tasmanian men are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year, and with our ageing population, this number is unfortunately set to rise.

Every time a Tasmanian man is diagnosed with prostate cancer they must make a decision regarding their treatment in consultation with their clinician.

Dr Liesel Fitzgerald heads up a current local research project on prostate cancer and she elaborates in explaining that treatment decisions are not that simple, all men respond to treatment differently.

“Some men respond well to treatment and their cancer is effectively “cured”, while others only respond for a short period of time, or not at all, and progress to develop life-threatening metastatic cancer. 

“In addition, some men will suffer from significant, long lasting, treatment-related side-effects, whereas other men may experience minor, short-term side-effects or none at all, ” Dr Fitzgerald said.

This current study known as BIOPC - Biomarkers to Improve Outcomes in Prostate Cancer - all started in 2018. This vital and valuable research has been able to commence due to funding from the RHH Research Foundation, the Cancer Council Tasmania, The Allport Bequest and the University of Tasmania.

Further funding from the RHH Research Foundation in 2019 ensured continued expansion of the study which has again been generously supported by a Tasmanian donor in 2020.

“To date, we have recruited over 550 Tasmanian men who have selflessly committed to provide samples for our genetic research, as well as allowing access to their clinical data stored in the Prostate Cancer Outcomes Registry in Tasmania.

“As someone with a ‘needle-phobia’ myself I am extremely grateful to these men who go out of their way to participate in our research,” Dr Fitzgerald said.

The current BIOPC team includes a group of highly-skilled scientists, clinicians and pathologists.

Liesel said, while all the project team members are incredibly important, she wanted to shine some light on nurse Jackie Townley who is at the coalface of the study, recruiting participants and collecting samples.

Jackie said she feels grateful to be involved in the project and contributing to the community by making a difference.

“I meet men who are happy to participate and have had such different experiences with prostate cancer. Everyone has a story and many participants are keen to help, knowing they have children or grandchildren who may also be affected one day,” she said.

While there are currently no tests to determine how a patient will respond to a given treatment, promisingly, there is evidence that show that differences in a man’s DNA can affect how he will respond to a particular treatment and whether he will suffer from side-effects.

“Our team aims to develop a Tasmanian prostate cancer study that will allow us to identify genetic differences that are linked to specific treatment responses.

“Our long-term goal is to translate our study findings into tests that a man can take before he starts treatment so he and his clinician know which treatment will work best with the least level of side-effects,” Dr Fitzgerald said.

The Tasmanian research team has made some great progress to date, but like all medical research, there is always more work to do.

The team needs 2,000 participants for genetic studies and continuous funding is vital to achieve this target. In the coming years, the team hope BIOPC will grow and provide a significant resource for prostate cancer research, ultimately improving treatment outcomes for Tasmanian men with this disease in times to come.

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