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Trinity researchers – as part of an international team of scientists – have identified three new biomarkers for prostate cancer to help identify and differentiate potentially aggressive cases of the disease.

An international team of scientists led in Trinity College by Professor John O’Leary, Consultant Histopathology, School of Medicine, and Professor Doug Brooks at the University of South Australia (UniSA) has made a landmark breakthrough which will assist pathologists when visualising prostate cancer in patient tissue samples.

The research has been published in the international journals Pathology and Cancers.

The team has identified three new biomarkers which will allow pathologists to determine which patients require immediate, radical treatment compared to those who need close monitoring.

With more than one million men diagnosed with prostate cancer worldwide each year, the research breakthrough is significant. Prostate cancer incidence in Ireland is currently the highest in Europe (GLOBOCAN, 2020). The number of deaths from prostate cancer was 554 per year, during the period 2016-2018. This represents 20.2 deaths per 100,000 of the population, attributing to 12% of male cancer deaths (NCRI, 2021).

The UniSA-based team has collaborated with the Australian company Envision Sciences on the technology to improve patient management and treatment outcomes.

Speaking on the discovery, Professor John O’Leary said: “This discovery made with colleagues from the University of South Australia, University of Adelaide, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and the Prostate Cancer Research Consortium (PCRC), the biobank for which is maintained and curated by colleagues at UCD, marks an important breakthrough in prostate cancer diagnostics and prognostics and offers for the first time a precision medicine approach in prostate cancer diagnostics allowing pathologists to:

  • Define the entire extent of the prostate cancer in a specimen;
  • Establish whether it is indolent or aggressive disease and define the risk of disease recurrence and metastasis; and
  • Define the metabolic profile of the tumour to decide whether it is using sugar or lipid metabolism, which also defines outcome of the disease.”

Professor Doug Brooks (UniSA), also said: “It is anticipated this will lead to long-term improvements in the way prostate cancer is diagnosed and graded.

“The biomarkers are remarkably sensitive and specific in accurately visualising the progress of the cancer and confirming its grade. This discovery has led to the commercial development of a test designed to determine how advanced and aggressive the cancer is and whether immediate treatment is needed.”

Envision Sciences, which funded the development and translation of the technology at UniSA, has signed
a commercialisation agreement with the largest tissue diagnostic pathology company in the US, Quest Diagnostics, to take the technology into clinical practice.

Pending a successful outcome in the US, it is expected that clinical trials using the innovative technology will be undertaken in Australia.

Prof O’Leary concluded: “This discovery and spin-out is transformative and disruptive in terms of prostate cancer diagnostics. Its adoption by Quest Diagnostics as a laboratory developed test (LDT) now ensures that the markers will be used in routine practice in the US. Our ambition is to see these markers used in Europe and Austral-Asia as well.”