Of the approximately 18,000 Australian men diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, many will eventually undergo hormone therapy. But prostate cancer’s ability to adapt and become resistant to this therapy is what ultimately kills patients.
Fortunately, University of Adelaide discoveries are shedding light on hormone therapy resistance—informing greater accuracy for current treatments, and revealing new and more effective options.
"The potential impact on prostate cancer patients worldwide, both in terms of survival benefit and quality of life, is profound."Dr Selth
Current hormone therapies for prostate cancer principally target a protein called the androgen receptor, the prostate cell’s master regulator and the central player in causing cancer growth. By blocking androgen production or inhibiting the androgen receptor, hormone therapy can halt the reproduction of cancerous cells. While this treatment strategy is initially effective, over time cancer cells adapt and become resistant.
“Treatment resistance means these types of therapies are reaching a ceiling of benefit,” says Dr Luke Selth, Senior Research Fellow within the University’s Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories. “It’s become clear they’ll never cure patients.” Once hormone therapies begin to fail, cancers are labelled castration-resistant—and it is these cancers that take the lives of over 3,000 Australian men yearly.
In recent years, Dr Selth and his team have identified new ways in which cancers become castration-resistant, including changes to the androgen receptor protein and identification of other factors that drive resistance. For patients diagnosed with this lethal condition, uncovering its complex biology carries with it enormous hope. The next step is to develop more effective therapies, which will outsmart the cancer.
“We’re exploring a multitude of different ways this research could translate into better patient outcomes,” says Dr Selth. “The potential impact on prostate cancer patients worldwide, both in terms of survival benefit and quality of life, is profound.”
Within the Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men's Health Dr Selth’s team’s work is now informing studies into completely different ways to target the androgen receptor. “We’re always mindful of the fact that patients need new and improved treatment options. With this in mind, everything we do is focussed on getting new drugs into clinical trials.”
Other research in the lab is aimed at identifying markers that could predict response to therapy, and therefore result in a more individualised approach to treating patients. This could have a significant impact on the frequency of unnecessary and ineffective treatments.
Dr Selth, who lost his mother to leukaemia and his grandfather to prostate cancer, is committed to turning his personal loss into positive outcomes. “I want to look back and say I found something that truly impacted on cancer patients’ lives.”