Scientists may have inched closer to a vaccine to combat prostate cancer, after uncovering a protein which could trigger the body's immune system to fight the disease.
Researchers at Nottingham Trent University have identified characteristics in a protein which may not only be able to stimulate the body's own defences to attack tumour cells, but which could also help protect from established prostate tumours - bringing new hope to those with an advanced form of the disease.
Their study has focused on the protein called prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP), which occurs in 90% of prostate tumours, and specifically dealt with using a part of PAP, called PAP 114.
From their research, scientists have developed a new prostate cancer vaccination strategy - which would be delivered to a patient through a series of injections - which appears to act against tumour growth, in pre-clinical testing carried out in laboratory conditions.
The scientists, based at the university's John van Geest Cancer Research Centre, now believe their findings could lead to the development of new cost-effective vaccines which will stimulate a faster-acting and longer-lasting immume system response in those people suffering with the potentially lethal tumours.
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Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease in UK men, killing more than 10,000 every year.
About 40,000 British men are diagnosed with with prostate cancer annually, with cases rising in men over 50, although the average age for diagnosis is in those aged between 70 and 74.
Dr Stephanie McArdle, lead researcher at the university's cancer research centre, said: "Unfortunately for most cancers, the specific targets against which vaccination strategies can be based are sometimes weak and relatively poor at inducing robust, protective anti-tumour immune responses.
"Developing cancer vaccines that can overcome the capacity of tumours to 'evade' the immune system and induce protective anti-tumour immunity is therefore essential for the development of new immunotherapies for aggressive disease."
She added: "Our findings demonstrate that PAP-114 is a promising candidate for further development of PAP-based anti-cancer vaccine strategies.
"It induces characteristics that are consistent with anti-tumour protection; capable of triggering an immune attack against prostate cancer cells and protecting against established prostate tumours."
Professor Robert Rees, research centre director, said he hoped the work would now lead to a clinical trial.
He said: "This pre-clinical study demonstrates the effectiveness of a peptide vaccine against PAP, a protein commonly expressed in prostate cancer, and is a pre-requisite to a clinical trial.
"We are encouraged by the findings and would expect this to lead to a Phase 1 clinical trial in the near future."
Prof Rees added: "It is vital that we develop new ways of treating patients and would hope that in the future men with advanced prostate cancer would be offered immunotherapy as a form of treatment.
"The same vaccine could also be used to treat patients in the early stages of disease, alongside other currently used treatments.
"More than 10,000 men die of prostate cancer in the UK annually and it is important that the unmet need for therapy, especially for patients with an advanced form of the disease, is addressed."