The early stages of prostate research lifted by Movember funding

 University of Victoria chemists Fraser Hof and Frank van Veggel are in the early stages of research that could vastly improve detection, treatment and even fight the "untreatable" forms of prostate cancer.

If all goes as planned for the two researchers, who depend on grants made possible through Movember fundraising, it could mean life-saving advances.
"To put it briefly, we're trying to make a treatment for the untreatable forms of prostate cancer," Hof said of his project, which is separate from van Veggel's.
Hof's team is developing drugs to block a pathway that hasn't been targeted by therapeutic approaches before. While 85 to 90 per cent of cases of prostate cancer can be treated through conventional methods with early detection, he said he and his team are targeting those currently resistant to treatment.
Specifically, the kind of drugs they are developing are inhibitors of proteinprotein interactions. They have already seen exciting results.
"We've found the first molecule to block this particular protein-protein interaction," he said. "It works in a test tube and it's in the very early stages -- so it's definitely not time for hyperbole. But it's an exciting, important step."
Van Veggel's research focuses on improving diagnosis and surgeries. He is developing materials that would make the cancer appear as a darker contrast on an MRI scan, as well as glow during surgery.
It involves developing an antibody that attaches to a nanoparticle, which together dock to cancer cells. The nanoparticles, which have the same sizerelationship to a mustard seed that one metre has to the north-south length of B.C., would create the visuals.
"The closest analogy we have is the horse with a wagon," van Veggel said.
"The horse knows where to go and in the process brings the hay to the stall."
In the long term, it could be a valuable tool for surgeons. Those nanoparticles would light up when stimulated by a laser, so surgeons could see exactly where the cancer cells are and remove a smaller, more accurate mass.
"The surgeon likes to cut a little bit more than the tumour," van Veggel said.
"But any time they cut through the tissue, they make loose cells. And a loose cell could go on the move." Those loose cancer cells can spread, if they aren't all removed. The application of his research could reduce that chance.
"If there are loose cells, they can just visualize them and suck them up."
In the shorter term, the goal is to make identifying cancer easier, as the nanoparticles also appear as a dark contrast on MRI scans.
For patients, this all means more comfortable diagnosis, with lower drug doses. "It potentially means a lower dose of foreign material," van Veggel said.
"The lower dose you need for those [MRI] images, the better."
While his research is currently focused on prostate cancer, it could be applied to fight other cancers in the future.
But van Veggel is still in the preliminary stages of research. The goal is to show that the binding happens, and also that the antibody will bind specifically to cancer cells.
"We have the first results that this is indeed the case," van Veggel said. The next step is showing that enough nanoparticles will, in fact, flock locally to give a high enough contrast for the scans.
Hof and van Veggel each received $120,000 grants made possible through funds raised by the Movember and West Coast Motorcycle to Ride campaigns. Hof said early-stage investigational projects like his and van Veggel's are typically seen as high-risk, so securing funding can be difficult.
"The Movember Canada campaign has been particularly good at funding new ideas and new approaches," he said. "They're really making it a priority."
It's personal for Hof, whose grandfather died from the cancer. "Every researcher has their own motivations and that's a big part of it for me."
Alex Cook, co-chair of the Movember committee, said the organization applies funds according to potential.
"They research who's got the best ability to find a cure for cancer and then the money goes accordingly," he said.
Canada leads the world in Movember fundraising, with almost $26.8 million raised this year, followed by the U.K.'s $16.6 million.
Money raised through West Coast Motorcycle Ride for Life promises that money raised here stays here. "That's the motto of the event: What's raised on the Island, stays on the Island," said Leanne Kopp, executive director of the Prostate Centre of Victoria, responsible for administering the funds.

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