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New Discoveries of Prostate Cancer Evolution Pave Way for Genetic Test

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 01 Mar 2024
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Image: Prostate cancer cell image taken using a scanning electron microscope (Photo courtesy of LRI EM Unit)
Image: Prostate cancer cell image taken using a scanning electron microscope (Photo courtesy of LRI EM Unit)

Prostate cancer ranks as one of the most common cancers affecting men, and while it accounts for a significant number of male cancer fatalities, many men live with it rather than die from it. Understanding when to avoid unnecessary treatments is crucial, as it can prevent side effects like incontinence and impotence. Now, new research has identified two distinct subtypes of prostate cancer, referred to as evotypes. This discovery could lead to major advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.

This discovery was made by an international consortium, called The Pan Prostate Cancer Group, which involved researchers from the University of Oxford (Oxford, UK), who used artificial intelligence (AI) to make new discoveries about the evolution of prostate cancer. Cancer development, like human evolution, can be traced and studied through its evolutionary history. By examining the cancer’s evolutionary tree, valuable insights about the disease can be gained, potentially aiding in the development of new treatments. The research involved an analysis of the DNA of prostate cancer samples from 159 patients through whole genome sequencing, a comprehensive method of examining an individual’s entire genetic material.

The team employed neural networks, an advanced AI technique, to compare the DNA of these samples. This analysis revealed two distinct cancer categories among the patients. These groups were further confirmed using two other mathematical methods applied to different data aspects. Moreover, this finding was corroborated in separate datasets from Canada and Australia. The researchers synthesized all this data to create an evolutionary tree depicting the development of the two prostate cancer subtypes, leading to the identification of two unique evotypes. Building on this discovery, the research team aims to develop a genetic test. This test, in conjunction with traditional staging and grading, could provide a more accurate prognosis for individual patients, enabling personalized treatment decisions. This innovation marks a significant leap forward in the field of prostate cancer research and treatment.

“Our research demonstrates that prostate tumors evolve along multiple pathways, leading to two distinct disease types,” said lead researcher Dr. Dan Woodcock, of the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences at the University of Oxford. “This understanding is pivotal as it allows us to classify tumors based on how the cancer evolves rather than solely on individual gene mutations or expression patterns.”

“This study is really important because until now, we thought that prostate cancer was just one type of disease. But it is only now, with advancements in artificial intelligence, that we have been able to show that there are actually two different subtypes at play,” said Professor Colin Cooper, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. “We hope that the findings will not only save lives through better diagnosis and tailored treatments in the future, but they may help researchers working in other cancer fields better understand other types of cancer too.”

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