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'Rosetta Stone' of prostate cancer brings hope of cure

Nine out of ten male prostate cancer sufferers could be treated after 'game-changing' study

BY STEVE CONNOR

Published 22/05/2015

In what is being called the 'Rosetta Stone' of prostate research, scientists have identified the genetic mutations linked with the spread of prostate cancer
In what is being called the 'Rosetta Stone' of prostate research, scientists have identified the genetic mutations linked with the spread of prostate cancer

Nine out of 10 men with advanced prostate cancer – an incurable and fatal disease – could soon be treated following a pioneering study.

In what is being called the “Rosetta Stone” of prostate research, scientists have identified the genetic mutations linked with the spread of prostate cancer. They found that up to 90 per cent of them are potentially treatable with new or existing drugs  which could extend the lives of thousands with the advanced disease.

“This is a game changer,” said Professor Johann de Bono, one of the leaders of the large international collaboration which carried out the work. “It’s really going to alter the way we deal with this lethal disease. It’s as if we’ve taken a prism to the white light of advanced prostate cancer and produced a rainbow of colour.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer of men with more than 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the UK. Although it can be cured if caught early, once it spreads beyond the prostate it can only be managed with hormone-suppressing drugs and for a limited time.

Professor de Bono of the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, compared the research to the Rosetta Stone which allowed historians to translate Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“We have for the first time produced a comprehensive genetic map of the mutations in prostate cancers that have spread around the body. This map will guide our future treatment and trials for this group of different lethal diseases,” Professor de Bono said. “We’re describing this study as prostate cancer’s Rosetta Stone because of the ability it gives us to decode the complexity of the disease, and to translate the results into personalised treatment plans.”

A key finding by researchers from eight institutions in the US and Europe, published in the journal Cell, is that prostate cancer is not one disease but several, each determined by the type of DNA mutations in the tumour cells. This opens the door to treating each patient in a personalised manner based on their type of mutations and drugs used to target them.

Professor Paul Workman, ICR president, said: “This opens up the black box of metastatic cancer, and has found inside a wealth of genetic information that will change the way we think about and treat advanced disease…the findings could make a real difference to large numbers of patients.”

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