Dollars at Work - Prostate Cancer Research

Predicting aggressive cancer

Each year, thousands of Canadian men undergo biopsies to detect prostate cancer and monitor the progression of the disease. Blood PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels are used to decide whether men will receive an invasive prostate needle biopsy, which provides a diagnosis but comes with significant discomfort and risk of infection.

A collaborative project involving Alberta Innovates, Dynalife and the Alberta Cancer Foundation will support a University of Alberta spin-off business called Nanostics that is focusing on non-invasive diagnostic tests for prostate cancer right here in our home province.

ClarityDX is a blood test to predict aggressive prostate cancer that was developed with the early investment from Alberta Cancer Foundation donors.

A reliable, non-invasive test to identify which tumours will become aggressive would substantially reduce unnecessary biopsies as well as unnecessary surgeries for patients. Early results suggest ClarityDX has the potential to be the most accurate test to diagnose aggressive prostate cancer. Studies have shown ClarityDX could eventually reduce 40 per cent of unnecessary biopsies in Alberta. This partnership with Dynalife, Alberta Innovates and Alberta Cancer Foundation is making it possible to transition it from the research environment to an accredited laboratory.

Spying on cancer

The Dianne and Irving Kipnes Chair in Radiopharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta and the Cross Cancer Institute is funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation and held by Dr. Frank Wuest. For the last ten years, Dr. Wuest and his team have been advancing the concept of personalized medicine at the molecular level. “It is about finding the right treatment for the right person at the right time,” Wuest explains.

To do this, they design short-term radioactive atoms, which are then attached to molecules. These molecular probes bind to specific biomarkers for cancer. With the probes in place, and using PET imaging, these “metabolic spies” identify and track cancer cells to monitor tumour growth and progression and to assess the response to treatments. Lab work involves creating the labelling technology for the probes, testing their diagnostic and treatment-tracking potential and facilitating Health Canada approval for first-in-human studies.

This work is also called “translational cancer research” because it moves quickly from the lab to practical clinical applications, or from “bench to bedside.” Wuest says the time it takes to approve the clinical trial process using these radiopharmaceuticals is rather short compared to traditional drugs (months versus years). “Therefore, we can rapidly ‘translate’ our best findings and innovations into the clinic to enhance patient care,” he says.

Together we can make a difference.

dollars at work

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