The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Acting Head of Urology and principal investigator, Associate Professor Niall Corcoran
16 April 2019
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The Royal Melbourne Hospital and the University of Melbourne have received a $5.4 million dollar funding boost for prostate cancer research.

The funds are part of a $12 million dollar research investment between the Federal Government and the Movember Foundation to fund three prostate cancer research alliance teams across Australia.

The team led by The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Acting Head of Urology and principal investigator, Associate Professor Niall Corcoran, will study prostate cancer prognosis and treatment, including ground-breaking new tests to identify which patients are most at risk of progressing to more advanced stages of the disease and which patients will likely respond best to different treatments.

The first stage of research will develop a tissue and blood test that aims to predict the future risk of progression in men with prostate cancer at the time of diagnosis. This will help with identifying patients at risk of early progression and provide doctors and patients with more information, and more tailored treatment options.

“We spend a lot of time treating men who never need treatment. If we had a scenario where you had a test that told you if the cancer was unlikely to progress in the next 40 years then you could continue about your business and not be treated as a cancer patient,” Associate Professor Niall Corcoran said.

At the other end of the spectrum, 10-20% progress to lethal disease despite all current therapies, and new treatment strategies are urgently needed to maximise long term disease control.

The second aim of the study will therefore be to inject these patients with an immune stimulating agent, to investigate whether this might offer a way of controlling the disease.

This unique part of the study, being headed by The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Deputy Director of Radiology, Associate Professor Stefan Heinze, uses MRI to target the clinically significant cancer within the gland. MRI is the most modern way of finding, sampling and targeting prostate cancers.

Previously there was no clear way of seeing cancer in the prostate but the MRI has the ability to find 85-90 per cent of clinically significant cancers, and these can then undergo biopsy and innovative treatments in-gantry – that is, injecting patients while they are in the MRI machine, using a non-metal needle.

The Royal Melbourne Hospital is the only hospital in Victoria which offers an in-bore biopsy and/or cancer targeting service.

Lastly it’s hoped the development of new tests will be able to predict how patients respond to treatment.

“Many patients get the full treatment of radiotherapy and surgery with no benefit, and in some cases, significant negative impacts on their quality of life. This research will give us much more clarity as to which people will benefit from that treatment and those who can avoid it,” A/Prof Niall Corcoran said.

“We believe that up to 60% of patients who undergo treatment today, could potentially avoid treatment entirely – but we need better data to underpin such a major change in treatment. The impact on patients, and the cost-savings could be quite significant”.

The Project was also made possible through contributions from The Royal Melbourne Hospital Foundation, the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC), the University of Melbourne and the Australian Prostate Centre.

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