Lisa Porter, John TrantLisa Porter and John Trant, shown in this 2019 photo, are working with an international team to find improved methods of diagnosing prostate cancer.

UWindsor researchers lead international team in new diagnostics for prostate cancer

Because the first step in successful cancer treatment is diagnosis, UWindsor researchers John Trant and Lisa Porter are working with an international team to find improved methods of diagnosing aggressive drug-resistant forms of prostate cancer.

The team, comprised of researchers from the University of Windsor, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Vancouver Prostate Centre at the University of British Columbia, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School, has worked to identify alternative proteins present in prostate cancer to increase chances for successful diagnosis in patients.

A current method for detecting and targeting prostate cancer tumours is to search for production of a protein called Prostate-Specific Membrane Antigen, or PSMA. PSMA imaging is used to detect prostate cancer cells that have spread to other parts of the body.

“PSMA is produced by prostate cancer tumours, so several therapies and diagnostic tools work by targeting PSMA,” said Dr. Porter.

“Recent research from our lab and others shows that prostate cancer can evolve into a new type of aggressive cancer, called neuroendrocrine prostate cancer, that stops making PSMA. This presents a potential problem when you are relying on PSMA to see the cancer.”

Dr. Trant says the team’s research involved identifying other PSMA-like proteins present in prostate cancer — NAALADaseL and mGluRs — produced as the presence of PSMA fades.

With new proteins to look for, the team developed a fluorescent probe that would bind to these specific proteins, allowing them to image cancer cells in pre-clinical settings.

“Usually, radiochemists are left with PET scans that can’t look at individual cells for cancer growth. With a fluorescent probe we can look at which specific cells this probe is binding to and exactly where it is located,” Trant said.

Porter says the study provides the groundwork for developing probes that can identify advanced prostate cancer using a multidisciplinary approach.

“If we can catch this progression early, we can save a life,” she says. “We want to help people detect their cancers faster.”

Porter is director of WE-Spark Health Institute; a collaboration among the University of Windsor, St Clair College, Windsor Regional Hospital, and Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. The regional network focuses on bringing the results of local research to clinical care and improving the lives of patients in Windsor-Essex.

The work was funded by national grants awarded to each researcher, as well local support from the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation Seeds for Hope Program, and the Prostate Cancer Fight Foundation Ride for Dad Windsor Chapter.