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.
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