Scientists developing work funded by The Prostate Cancer Charity are taking an important step forward in tackling the disease by developing a new magnetic treatment to accurately target prostate cancer cells, according to new research presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Cancer Conference this week in Liverpool.

The research, which was carried out by scientists at the University of Sheffield, takes a novel approach to treating the disease by using magnetic nanoparticles to  deliver cancer fighting white blood cells – known as macrophages – to the heart of prostate tumours. By delivering these macrophages – which have been charged with a new type of gene therapy to tackle the disease – into the core of the cancer, treatment can be focused on the tumour itself whilst sparing the surrounding healthy tissue.

We know that when prostate cancer develops, a type of white blood cells called macrophages flock to the scene. Previous research has allowed us to harness these cells to deliver cancer fighting therapies directly into the cancer cells. Now, with some magnetic assistance, we are able to refine this method so that the macrophages reach and deliver the therapy to prostate cancer cells only, leaving healthy cells unharmed.

Dr Jay Richardson, lead author

To improve the effectiveness of this new treatment, the researchers discovered that when magnetised, the number of macrophages travelling only into prostate cancer cells under laboratory conditions dramatically increased. The greater the number of macrophages that were delivered into the cancer cells, the greater the number of cancer cells that were destroyed during treatment.

Due to the treatment’s ability to seek out prostate cancer cells, the authors are hopeful that it could be particularly useful in tackling the advanced form of the disease, where cancer cells have migrated to other parts of the body, as well as the cancer contained within the prostate gland.

Plans are now underway to continue this research in mice to see if the study’s success can be replicated outside of the petri dish.

Although in its early stages, this innovative new research has produced some particularly exciting foundations for the development of a new treatment to tackle the disease. Through utilising new technology, the researchers have been able to design a new treatment which has the potential to deliver cancer killing cells to the very heart of a prostate tumour. This study is particularly exciting, as it could lead to a new treatment for men living with an advanced form of the disease, where the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, who have very few treatment choices open to them.

Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity