Big C funding new prostate cancer research for Norfolk

A two-year research project into prostate cancer will be based in Norfolk and Waveney thanks to local funding and the 'unique facilities' at Norwich Research Park.

The Big C will be funding the work of Colin Cooper, a leading professor of cancer genetics, to work with patients to develop a biomarker for the diagnosis and treatment of early stage prostate cancer.

Prof Cooper, who was born and bred in Norfolk, said he was attracted to the prospect of working in the county because of Norwich Research Park.

He said: 'It has a number of unique facilities that are relevant to cancer research that nowehere else in the world has, let alone the UK.'

Prof Cooper said this included the John Innes Centre and its work on plants, which provides an excellent opportunity to look at developing new natural products to treat cancer, while the Institute of Food Research can further understanding of how diet is linked to cancer.

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The Genome Analysis Centre is one of only two in the country and it is a stone's throw from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N), a large and thriving hospital which offers the chance to further clinical work and research with patients.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK. Nearly 40,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year with 250,000 men currently living with the disease.

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Many men in the UK are living with prostate cancer unaware they have the disease. This is because early stages of prostate cancer are difficult to diagnose and there are often no symptoms, which is why prostate cancer is one of the largest causes of death in men in the world.

Prof Cooper has already made considerable advancements through DNA Studies at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. Working in partnership with the Big C's prostate cancer research team at the University of East Anglia and the N&N will provide access to large numbers of patients within Norfolk and Waveney living with prostate cancer, so a programme of trials can be developed. The first is to identify biomarkers in the hope that in future men may be able to have a simple urine test to diagnose aggressive prostate cancer.

Prof Cooper said: 'Since 1947 we've known that prostate cancer cells can be found in urine, but because of the different toxic layers in urine it's been difficult, until now, to identify which cancer cells are aggressive and which are non aggressive.'

He added: 'We're nearly at that point of successfully identifying these cells correctly which is a massive break through.'

He will also use genome technology, to look at the sequence of DNA (genes) in the body of a cancer patient and decode it to establish which genes have broken down to cause the cancer. Once this is established it is possible to re-sequence the broken genes, so that the body responds to cancer treatment more effectively. The treatment would then consist of personalised medicine for cancer patients.

Daniel Williams, chief executive of Big C, said: 'We are really excited at Big C, Norfolk is unique because we have the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the UEA and the Norwich Research Park which incorporates 'The Genome Analysis Centre all in such close proximity. Norfolk could one day be the world leading hub of genome technology in the fight against cancer.'

Professor Krishna Sethia, medical director and consultant urologist at the N&N, said: 'We are delighted that such an internationally distinguished scientist as Professor Cooper has joined us in Norwich. We are all looking forward to working with him to improve our understanding of and ability to treat cancers.'

Ray Cossey, chairman of the Norfolk and Waveney Prostate Cancer Support Group, said: 'As prostate cancer patients, the members of our patient support group very much applaud the Big C's initiative in enabling professor Cooper to bring his expertise to this area. We are keen to assist him in whatever way we can to progress his research into identifying a bio-marker, which will remove the uncertainties that presently exist when it comes to accurately diagnosing the precise nature of prostatic cancer. There has always been difficulty in differentiating between 'pussycat' and 'tiger' prostate cancers and professor Cooper's research will assist greatly in overcoming this problem.'

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