My father died from prostate cancer in October 2011 after a terrible illness that lasted six years. In remembrance, I am participating in OctoBeardFest - growing your beard in the month of October to help raise funds and awareness for cancer research.
Now, I don't want you to give me money just because I'm not shaving for a month – which is great for me of course - but because this is really important for everyone and you really can make a difference; you can help develop revolutionary new treatments for cancer and help save thousands of lives.
In my day job, I fundraise for the cancer research team at the University of Surrey. I have already raised £38,000 for them this year from charitable trusts and foundations and will go on doing this because they need a lot more to continue their research.
I want to support them personally too and at the same time help to raise awareness of the amazing work they are doing. Prostate cancer is already the most common cancer in men and given our aging population it is predicted to become the most common cancer of all in the UK by 2030. It's as big an issue for men as breast cancer is for women yet it receives just a fraction of the money for research.
I believe the University of Surrey team is doing work that will affect all our lives, potentially developing effective treatments for all types of cancer.
If you want to take the time to read it, below is a summary of the groundbreaking work the cancer research team at Surrey are doing. This video by the team leaders, Professor Hardev Pandha and Dr Richard Morgan gives some good background.
With over 913,000 new cases recorded worldwide in 2008, prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in men. Until now it has been a challenge to reliably and accurately diagnose prostate cancer. Although the current standard Prostate Specific Antigen test (PSA) remains an important and useful test for prostate cancer, its use is limited as PSA levels can also increase in non-cancerous conditions of the prostate.
The cancer research group at the University of Surrey is on the front line of research. They have had great success in developing a diagnostic test for prostate cancer - a new, far more reliable and more accurate way of detecting prostate cancer than the current PSA test.
The Surrey group’s findings have been published in two high profile papers and have received widespread publicity in the media.
The new test is based on the discovery that a protein called engrailed-2 (EN2) is present in most prostate cancers and that prostate cancer cells secrete EN2 into urine. EN2 is made by cancer cells (and not nearby normal cells) and is displayed at high levels on the cell surface, meaning that EN2 is an ideal target for various cancer treatments and further diagnostic imaging.
For example, it may be possible to use antibodies that have been altered to recognise EN2 to look for prostate cancer that has escaped the confines of the prostate gland, and also direct high doses of a very specific treatment exclusively to cancer cells. The team is also looking at other unique ways of using the body’s own defenses and viral therapies to target all types of cancer.
No other research group is looking at EN2 in this way. Furthermore, the Surrey team has found that most common cancers make EN2, raising the possibility of a universal treatment across a broad range of cancers.