Prostate cancer research giving hope

Sunday 18 July 2021

In a world first, a research project into an aggressive form of prostate cancer has advanced into animal models, all thanks to a PA Hospital patient.

The research into ductal prostate cancer is being led by Translational Research Institute (TRI) based researcher and Urologist in training Dr Mahasha Perera, who is hopeful his work will eventually lead to a better understanding of a rare and aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Mahasa (middle) pictured alongside his fellow Master's Students based at the PA Campus

A second project Dr Perera is working on as part of his master's studies, is research that hopes to replicate the success of immunotherapy in treating blood cancers like leukemia into treating prostate cancer tumours.

With Covid-19 presenting some logistical issues with the immunotherapy project, it has allowed Dr Perera more time to focus on his ductal prostate cancer research, which was made possible thanks to the generosity of a patient of PA Urologist Associate Professor Ian Vela.

"We were very fortunate to receive a small portion of his tumour, and we were able to transplant this tumour that into animal models, and then translate that into successive generations. To our delight, we found that these transplanted tumours recapitulate the same rare ductal form of prostate cancer found in humans.

"It's exciting, because the information we glean from this project will significantly contribute to our understanding of ductal prostate cancer worldwide. There are no models like this of ductal prostate cancer in the world, in terms of animal models, and it is to our knowledge, the first of its kind.

"We will be able to analyse the tumours in our animal models to assess their genetic material and also to evaluate the responses of these tumours to certain treatments. The next step would be to hopefully translate our understanding from these animal models into humans."

"I'm extracting DNA from the tumours and the genetic information from the tumours will then be sequenced and we will be able to isolate or analyse any particular mutations that occur more frequently in these tumours, when compared to other tumours or compared to normal samples from normal patients.

"If we find certain mutations are more prevalent this might make men with ductal prostate cancer eligible for certain treatments, they would otherwise not be eligible for."

Mahasa (left) alongside his fellow Master's Students based at the PA Campus

While his ductal prostate cancer project has advanced to preclinical animal models, Dr Perera is also making headway on his immunotherapy project, driven by his desire to help the thousands of men each year who face a prostate cancer diagnosis.

"This research revolves around a new form of immunotherapy in prostate cancer that's been widely used in treating blood cancers" he said.

"This form of immunotherapy is essentially engineering your own body's cells to fight cancers cells and it has great success in haematological cancers such as Leukemia, however people are just starting to use it in treatment of solid tumours like prostate cancer.

"At the moment we are treating these tumours in the in vitro models in the lab in a petri dish setting, once we can demonstrate promising results, we would upgrade these treatments to animal models and continue to work towards translating that into humans.

As both a member of the Centre of Personalised Analysis of Cancers and the PAH based Queensland Bladder Cancer Initiative, Dr Perera said the PAH campus and the unique opportunities it offers researchers, as well as his training under A/Prof Vela have been vital to the advancement of his research.

"It's the only place like it. In my job as a both a clinician and researcher I scrub into the operation helping A/Prof Vela out and at the end of the case we allocate a portion of the tumour and I transport it across the building to the TRI building and we process it then and there. It is a very streamlined and effective approach."

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