Better markers that predict aggressive prostate cancer disease

The inability of current blood tests for prostate cancer to provide a prognosis that clearly differentiates aggressive from slow growing disease remains a key research challenge which members of the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men’s Health are taking on.

Importantly, a better prognostic tool would reduce unnecessary and costly treatment that imposes great physical and psychological burden on men. Better markers of  disease (biomarkers) will also enhance the monitoring of response to therapies so that men are not exposed to toxic therapies that are ineffective.

In a scientific article published last month in the British Journal of Cancer, Dr Luke Selth (Post-Doctoral Research Scientist) from the Adelaide Prostate Cancer Research Centre and colleagues, reported on small evolutionary conserved molecules circulating in the blood, called microRNAs,  which may offer promise as biomarkers for prostate cancer.  These microRNAs are important regulators of gene activity and are implicated in a number of diseases, including prostate cancer.

Graph showing percent of men who do not have progression of disease over time according to whether they have low (blue line) or high (red line) levels of microRNAs

The research team measured a suite of different microRNAs in the blood of men who had either experienced progression of their prostate cancer disease or had no recurrence.  Of the many microRNAs, the team were able to identify and validate 2 (miR-146b-3p and miR-194) that were elevated in men who subsequently experienced disease progression (red line on graphs left).  Importantly, miR-146b-3p was found to be a more useful  biomarker that current parameters used for prognosis (such as tissue pathology and PSA levels).

Research, funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and Cancer Australia, will continue using a much larger group of samples to determine more accurately whether these circulating microRNAs can improve prostate cancer prognosis and thereby better tailor treatment.

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