Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be a difficult thing to hear for many patients. But, some diagnoses, like cancer of the prostate, come with “grey areas” and the complexities around what the diagnosis actually means can sometimes be lost in the shock of the initial diagnosis.
For Dr. Bharati Bapat, a senior scientist in UHN’s Laboratory Medicine Program (LMP) and Mount Sinai Hospital, she wondered if there was an easy way to identify those complexities around prostate cancer – specifically how aggressive or indolent the type of cancer might be – without causing undue stress or anxiety for the patient.
“Some cancer diagnoses are pretty clear ” explained Dr. Bapat. “But not all prostate cancers are the same. Some are quite aggressive and require intense treatment and therapy, but many more are benign and can comfortably be monitored without much hardship for the patient.”
“I want to be able to figure out early how to identify whether a patient will likely develop aggressive type of prostate cancer or not,” she continued. “The earlier we know, the better.”
Using funds from a grant provided by Prostate Cancer Canada and Movember Canada, Dr. Bapat will serve as the lead PI, in connection with experts in molecular genetics, urology, oncology, radiology, pathology, bioinformatics from UHN, including LMP’s Dr. Theo van der Kwast, and colleagues from Sunnybrook, OICR and international collaborators in Ireland and Finland.
“The research was timed perfectly to correspond with the grant from Prostate Cancer Canada and Movember,” said Bapat. “I believe we were only one of three projects to receive funding – but now we have exciting work to do.”
As Principal Investigator, Bapat will lead the team as they work to validate and discover biomarkers that have the potential to accurately detect aggressive PC.
“Right now we often do not know which men harbour an aggressive prostate cancer, even when their biopsy shows a low-risk prostate cancer” said Dr. Theo van der Kwast. “But, our goal is to diagnose early, focus on those with aggressive cancer, while putting those with less aggressive forms of prostate cancer under surveillance.”
Using archival blood, tissue and urine samples from UHN, Sunnybrook and international cohorts, they will look for patterns within the pre and post-op biopsy samples in order to identify a way that will discriminate between benign and aggressive cancers ‘up front.’
“The main goal is to find a way to identify the level of risk early,” explained Bapat.”But, I predict that if we find a way to detect aggressive prostate cancer accurately, using less invasive methods, compliance would increase, it would translate better to clinical settings and we’d be more confident in knowing that we were targeting the right patients for surgery.”