Norwich Researchers make groundbreaking discovery in prostate cancer

Researchers from the University of East Anglia, Earlham Institute and Quadram Institute have helped identify a link between five types of bacteria and aggressive prostate cancer.  Urine and tissue samples were collected from 600 men both with and without prostate cancer, and five bacteria were identified including three that were previously undiscovered. Analysis showed men who had two or more of the strains in their urine, prostate or tissue samples were 2.6 times more likely to progress to an aggressive form of cancer than those who didn’t.  

Professor Colin Cooper of Norwich Medical School spoke of the ideas for the study, stating “the presence of Helicobacter pylori bacteria in the digestive tract can lead to stomach ulcers and is associated with stomach cancer”. Taking this information forwards they investigated the link between bacteria and prostate cancer. It’s not clear yet whether the bacteria are the cause of the aggressive forms of prostate cancer, but it’s hoped treatment to remove them could help to slow the rate of progression in the illness.  

The bacteria were detected through a process of whole-genome sampling on tissues. When this is done, tumour samples are sequenced along with any pathogens present in the aggressive cancer samples. Identification of the bacteria can lead to understanding how it develops in the prostate and whether any other factors are at play in the tumour’s development. These could include weaker immune system responses and data gathered from which type of bacteria is present could inform treatment plans. If bacteria were shown to cause a development in the cancer preventative measures could help stop prostate cancer from developing further. This is according to Dr Helen Luxton of Prostate Cancer UK, who stated a breakthrough of this kind could “save hundreds of lives each year”.  

While the effect is not clear, it’s important to note healthy bacteria also coexist with those linked to the aggressive forms. This means it is not a simple answer of just removing all the bacteria and hoping to see results. Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer found in men and the aggressive forms take almost 12,000 lives each year, so tackling the problem would undoubtedly save lives.  Whether the results of the study lead to treatment plans remains to be seen but the discovery of two new bacterias has been found in samples. Porphyromonas bobii and Varibaculum prostatecancerukia are two new strains of bacteria found in the study and named after those funding it, with money coming from Prostate Cancer UK and the Bob Champion Cancer Trust respectively.

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George Barsted

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May 2022
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