Bringing greater ethnic equality to prostate cancer research

Manchester researchers are among the first to apply their world-leading genetic and genomic expertise to study the differences in prostate cancer among ethnic groups to deliver more tailored, targeted treatment.

Global challenge: Black men face greater risk

Prostate cancer is more common among ethnic minority groups. On average, one in four Black men will be diagnosed with this cancer, compared with one in eight men from other ethnic backgrounds. It is a significant problem globally and there are predictions that incidence will double over the next 20 years.

Despite evidence of the cancer burden for ethnic minority groups, the majority of research aimed at prevention, detection and treatment of the disease is conducted in developed countries – primarily on White Europeans.

Manchester solution: improving ethnic equality in cancer research

Manchester researchers are collaborating on a world-first genomic study looking at the development of prostate cancer in men living in low to middle-income countries, specifically in Kenya, East Africa, where it is the most common cancer in the male population.

Professor David Wedge, Professor of Cancer Genomics and Data Sciences at The University of Manchester, has partnered with researchers at the University of Nairobi to collect prostate cancer samples from local men. The team aims to extract and sequence the DNA from tumours to establish which mutations occur and understand why varying patterns of mutations occur in different ethnic groups.

By comparing the pattern of mutations in prostate cancers from a number of different populations, the team aims to identify what mutations are causing differences in the nature of the cancer. They also hope to learn whether these mutations are caused primarily by environmental factors or inherited genetics.

Nearly all genetic research into cancer has been carried out in developed countries and primarily on White populations, which leaves a massive gap in knowledge. We want to improve access to good healthcare worldwide, but also to actually improve equality in research.

David Wedge / Professor of Cancer Genomics and Data Sciences

Personalising cancer treatment based on ethnicity

Professor Wedge explains: “If we do find unique mutation patterns, it would mean that we could identify the key markers early on as these would be mutations in particular genes that are driving cancer growth within specific populations."

“If a pattern of mutations was unique to a particular ethnic group, or was more common in a particular ethnic group, then it becomes possible to tailor treatment towards that group; we think some treatments may be more effective with some populations than others. This means we are moving towards more personalised cancer treatments that might be partially directed by inherited genetics.”

Championing inclusive cancer research

With nearly all of the global genetic research in cancer having been carried out in developed countries on White populations, there is a huge gap in research for focussing on cancers in non-White populations across all cancers, including prostate cancer.

Professor Wedge explains: “It’s not really known why certain types of cancer are more aggressive in Black people than they are in White people, but nearly all genetic research has been carried out in developed countries on people of European descent. There have been very few studies of African Americans and this is one of the first studies of Black Africans living in Africa. We want to improve equality and access to good healthcare, but we also want to benefit scientists and clinicians in Kenya by spreading research knowledge and skills.”

Research impacts

The University of Manchester’s research has helped to:

  • pioneer the first genomic study of its kind on this population and cancer type;
  • develop an understanding of tumour development within different populations and, in future, inform how treatments are allocated to different ethnic groups;
  • make the case for ensuring that cancer research represents multiple and diverse ethnic populations; strive to minimise healthcare inequalities; and develop personalised treatments tailored to the individual;
  • support researchers at the University of Nairobi in understanding how the development of cancer differs in different ethnic groups;
  • increase the knowledge base and skill set of scientists and clinicians in Kenya by creating a culture of shared learning within the global consortium of research partners;
  • ensure that the University's precision medicine for all approach to cancer treatment applies to everyone, regardless of where an individual lives;
  • progress the evidence base for prostate cancer prevention, detection and treatment in Kenyan men and ensure that it is taken up by public health professionals and clinicians across the globe.

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