Men's Health Week: MANDATE Research

Sunday 21 June 2020

Men's Health Week 2020: Funding Vital Prostate Cancer Research

For Dr Ian Vela and Associate Professor Elizabeth Williams, Men's Health Week is an annual reminder their prostate cancer research project is about saving as many lives as possible.

With the disease taking the lives of more 3,300 men in 2019, the researchers and their team know their work has never been more important as they look to find ways to improve outcomes for all those diagnosed, but especially those with high risk and advanced cancers.

"Our goal in the prostate cancer program is to absolutely personalize the individual's treatment so they get the right treatment at the right time. To do that we're working with the actual patient's tumours, so that we can understand the biology and the role of their DNA - and what's gone a bit crazy with their tumour DNA - so that we can target treatment specifically for them," A/Prof Williams said.

Associate Professor Elizabeth WilliamsAssociate Professor Elizabeth Williams

A/Prof Williams, whose work sees her testing tumours that have come directly from PA Hospital (PAH) patients, believes funding from the PA Research Foundation (PARF) has resulted in significant steps forward for her team.

"We're really interested in men who have either a high-risk disease or advanced disease. I've done a lot of work where we have been able to develop better models for people who have advanced disease, which are letting us discover and then test therapies that might be appropriate for them," she said.
"A particular example of that would be bone metastasis where historically there has really been a shortage of ways to really change outcomes for patients facing this, so you can manage the disease; it's really hard to treat it once it spreads to a lot of sites.
"We've been able to make a model where the prostate cancer cells and bone cells interact, and we can replicate what happens in the person. As a result, we've made some discoveries about new molecules, which might provide targets for new therapies.
"The funding from the PA Research Foundation was absolutely essential to help us transition from using standard laboratory approaches to integrating fresh clinical material that patients had donated so that we could get all of that pathway and the assays (investigative procedures) and everything working to ask the questions that are really closely related to what are happening to people currently."

Dr Ian VelaDr Ian Vela

With prostate cancer accounting for 12 per cent of all Australian male cancer deaths last year, Dr Vela and his team are confident with continued funding support they are on the cusp of significant breakthroughs.

"I think there's also a lot of really exciting developments in the field at the moment because we're operating on more and more high-risk patients and also younger men," Dr Vela said.
"The work we're doing with that project is very exciting in that we have already identified a number of men who may benefit from potential clinical trials in the future if their cancer recurs."

With PARF running its yearly MANDATE campaign, aimed at raising the profile of prostate cancer and encouraging men to take charge of their own health by making a yearly appointment with their GP, Dr Vela believed both the MANDATE campaign and Men's Health Week should prompt men to consider their overall health and take action.

"I always say blokes need to listen to their wives because it's always the wives that are often getting onto them or their partners. But I also liken it to like blokes with their cars. They do preventative maintenance in a car and so they're going to take it to the mechanic, they're going to get it serviced and so the same thing needs to be of their body," he said.
"Blood pressure checks, cholesterol checks, diabetes checks, and then obviously prostate cancer screenings in the form of a blood test to check PSA (prostate specific antigen) in an appropriately informed and counselled man are very important."

Donate top help fund vital prostate cancer research like the work of A/Prof Williams and Dr Vela at www.mandate.org.au/donate