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Precision Medicine
24 August, 2020

Big fat solution to stop the spread of prostate cancer

Precision Medicine

Ahead of Daffodil Day, a team of SA scientists have discovered a new way to stop the spread of prostate cancer that could be fast-tracked as a treatment option.

The latest work by researchers at SAHMRI, University of Adelaide and the Freemasons Centre for Male Health and Wellbeing found prostate cancer cells can be stopped in their tracks by targeting the fats they rely on as fuel.

Corresponding author and Cancer Council Beat Cancer Project Professor Lisa Butler says manipulating the amount of fat in cancer cells is the key to destroying them.

“These fats can either be taken up through our diet or be generated in the cancer cells themselves,” she said.

“But the levels need to be carefully controlled by those cancer cells, as too much fat is toxic to them.”

The studies recently published in Molecular Cancer Research and eLife have shown that depriving cells of the enzyme responsible for regulating the quantity of fat they need to survive causes them to overload and die.

“We found that cancer cells use the enzyme DECR1 to both generate more energy and protect the cells from death due to excess fat levels. Starving the cells of DECR1 killed them,” Professor Butler said.

The process of overloading fat in cancer cells could be achieved in the human body with the help of drugs that are already available, meaning people living with prostate cancer wouldn’t have to wait years for a new medication to be tested and approved before they can reap the benefits.

“Our work provides the ground-breaking opportunity to take drugs that are already being used for conditions such as angina and repurposing them for prostate cancer treatment to improve prognosis and quality of life,” Professor Butler said.

Researchers have proven the effectiveness of this treatment method with successful tests on live tumours donated by Adelaide prostate cancer patients.

“Having quick access to freshly removed tumours allowed us to confirm that blocking fat metabolism in clinical prostate tumours stops cancer cells from growing and spreading,” Professor Butler said.

“This is a great example of what can be achieved through collaboration between scientists, doctors, nurses and patients.”

It’s hoped clinical trials will soon be undertaken to approve the use of these drugs for the treatment of prostate cancer, to give patients a life changing tool that’ll help them live longer, happier lives.

“This breakthrough might prove to be a crucial factor in slowing the mortality rate and giving patients a better chance of preventing relapse,” Professor Butler said.

Prostate cancer currently accounts for 13% of male cancer deaths in Australia, a statistic that’s expected to rise dramatically in the coming years due to the country’s aging population.

Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day, held across the country on Friday 28 August, funds ground-breaking South Australian cancer research projects like that of Professor Butler through Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project.

Ahead of Daffodil Day, Cancer Council SA Chief Executive Lincoln Size urged South Australians to show their support in whatever way they can to enable this life-saving research to continue.

“Despite advances made in research and improving survival rates for many cancers, we know that 28 South Australians are diagnosed with cancer every day. We also know that less funding will be available for research due to the current climate, which is why it’s more important than ever before to ensure we support the work of our researchers.”

“We rely on the generosity of community donations to help us fund work like Professor Butler. Money raised this year will provide more than hope to people affected by cancer, it will fund vital cancer research that is making a huge difference to the lives of South Australians every day.

For more information on Daffodil Day and make a donation to support cancer research visit daffodilay.com.au.

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The SAHMRI community acknowledges and pays respect to the Kaurna people as the traditional custodians of the Adelaide region. We also acknowledge the deep feelings of attachment and the relationship of the Kaurna people to their country. We pay our respects to the Kaurna peoples' ancestors and the living Kaurna people today.