Aligning research to improve prostate cancer patient outcomes

Since 2007, countries including Canada, the US and the UK have been raising awareness about men’s health and diseases such as prostate and testicular cancer, as part of the Movember campaign. Here we meet Professor Rob Bristow, Cancer Domain Lead and University Professor of Cancer Studies at The University of Manchester, and Director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC). A Canadian native and long-time supporter of the Movember Foundation, Rob tells us about his ambitions around prostate cancer research.

For decades teams of global scientists have studied genomes and used technological advances to sequence many of the major genes found in the most prevalent cancers. Today we are putting these findings into clinical practice by identifying aggressive versus less aggressive diseases to ensure that patients receive a more precise cancer treatment with fewer side-effects.

This same information can be used to understand how we can prevent cancer based on their bloodline (germline) DNA. This gives signals about whether an individual will be at risk of developing a specific cancer during their lifetime. By knowing this, we can detect cancers early.

By harnessing the correct information that genomics can bring to a patient’s cancer and co-existing diseases (co-morbidities), this will drive a new approach to patient care across the Manchester city region and the rest of the world.

Developing prostate cancer research

Manchester is home to the Movember Centre of Excellence, a collaboration with Queen’s University, Belfast, which is funded through Prostate Cancer UK with co-leads Professors Richard Marais and Noel Clarke. Manchester leads superb basic and discovery research in:

  • prostate cancer stem cells;
  • novel cellular, genetic, imaging and circulating tumour cell biomarkers of tumour spread and treatment response;
  • the role of hypoxia in prostate cancer progression.

Through clinical trials at The Christie, Manchester tests the latest targeted therapies and increasingly uses molecular profiling to maximise patient benefit. Many of our researchers have their own individual grants with Prostate Cancer UK that fund innovative research to improve the survival and quality of life for men with prostate cancer.

As a prostate and bladder cancer specialist, I want to use a patient’s bloodline and tumour genomic secrets to help patients access trials for the most suitable and bespoke treatment. There are very few places globally that have married the genomics using both solid tumour and liquid (blood) biopsies before and during treatment to track success.

Manchester provides an opportunity to activate all concepts of genetic sequencing that were present during my research in Toronto, and to bring that research into the clinical realm of real-world outcomes through the National Health Service (NHS), where it directly impacts patient care.

Strengths in cancer research

The University of Manchester is home to world-leading research led by experts spanning the full cancer spectrum, from work on cancer prevention and early detection through to the molecular classification of patients for innovative clinical trials using radiotherapy, drug therapy or immunotherapy. There is also important research on living with cancer, including survivorship and preventing long-term complications of therapy. 

The University, with its partners the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Research UK, The Christie (Europe’s largest single-site cancer centre) and other Manchester-based health services, enables collaborative programmatic approaches to genomics. This includes trialling genetic tests for clinical patients, creating a database where a patient’s genomics are linked to how they are affected by their treatment and recording side-effects on the patient’s digital health records. This will be a first real-world outcome protocol for the UK and will see Manchester lead the world in how electronic data is married to a patient’s genetic make-up. 

The University also has strong links with local NHS trusts which means our researchers work side by side with clinicians, taking our research from the laboratory bench to the bedside and back

What differentiates Manchester from other cancer centres?

Manchester is a global powerhouse of basic, discovery and applied research. To my knowledge, there’s nowhere else in the world where cancer research is elevated and activated to such a high level based on the tripartite commitment of the University, Cancer Research UK and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.

We are collectively changing the way we approach cancer biology to prevent, diagnose, treat and minimise side-effects.

What are the immediate opportunities for cancer research in Manchester?

The replacement of the Paterson Building next to The Christie, which was home to a number of cancer researchers until destroyed by fire last year, affords us the opportunity to create one of the world’s top five translational cancer-research centres.  It will also house a new Manchester Prostate Cancer Centre with a strong link between innovative research and clinical impact.

This multimillion-pound development will be a magnet for attracting international researchers and building partnerships with other academic institutions, as well as the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. By having doctors, nurses, researchers and scientists working collaboratively in one building, we will accelerate the development of cancer research through to patient care on the ward.

Cancer is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons – examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. 

To find out more about our ground-breaking work or if you are interested in collaborating with the University around cancer treatment, visit our cancer research beacon page