More than 3,300 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in Ireland each year (National Cancer Registry of Ireland), which is the second highest incidence in the EU. Ireland ranks 12th highest in terms of mortality from prostate cancer. Although survival from prostate cancer has improved since the 1990’s, and is relatively high compared to other cancers (on average, 91% of men diagnosed with prostate cancer are alive after 5 years), cancer survival varies considerably depending on the stage at diagnosis. Only 43% of men diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer are alive after 5 years.
Prostate cancer research at the Apoptosis Research Centre is focused on investigating the role of inflammation in the tumour microenvironment and how that impacts tumour progression. This programme of research is linked to NUI Galway’s Prostate Cancer Institute and also has strong links with the Laboratory of Human Carcinogenesis and Cancer Inflammation Program at the National Cancer Institute, USA.
Some of the major advances by Dr Sharon Glynn in the area of prostate cancer have been made in collaboration with Dr Stefan Ambs at the NCI. In 2016, they published their research results that showed that smoking plays a role in driving prostate cancer metastasis (cancer spread) through activation of an inflammatory response (Prueitt RL et al., Cancer Res, 2016). This was a truly translational and collaborative research project that involved investigating the impact of smoking and nicotine on prostate cancer progression, in laboratory models of metastatic prostate cancer (cell lines and murine models) and in patient samples. Each of these prostate cancer models showed a very strong nicotine-induced inflammatory response, resulting in the accumulation of immunoglobulins and increased metastasis. For some time, it has been known that prostate cancer patients who smoke are more likely to develop aggressive disease and to die from prostate cancer. This study presents a potential mechanism by which smoking drives aggressive prostate cancer.
Also, in collaboration with Dr Stefan Ambs at NCI, Dr Glynn has recently found that a component of our DNA with unknown function (previously thought to be ‘junk’ DNA), called HERV-K are silenced in normal, adult tissues but are re-expressed in cancerous tissues. Dr Glynn’s group have shown that four separate individual proteins are expressed in prostate cancer. These HERV-K proteins are found at higher levels in prostate cancer compared to benign disease (benign prostatic hyperplasia, which is very common in older men and complicates PSA testing). Dr Glynn has shown for the first time that a simple blood test measuring HERV-K messenger RNA can predict the likelihood of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Additionally, the level of these messengers in the blood is linked to smoking status which may suggest a link to more aggressive prostate cancer (Wallace, TA et al., Carcinogenesis 2014)
Dr Sharon Glynn’s group:
- Dr. Sharon Glynn is a member of the iPROSPECT study funded by the Irish Cancer Society. iPROSPECT follows patients with metastatic prostate cancer through their treatment, investigating how metastatic prostate cancer responds to treatment or becomes resistant. As part of this study Dr Glynn’s group is investigating how metastatic prostate cancer cells interact with bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells with a view to developing new therapeutic strategies to better treat our patients.
- One particular area of interest is the overexpression human endogenous retroviruses in metastatic prostate cancer and whether this initiates an inflammation cascade that drives metastatic prostate cancer.