“Prostate cancer is a very evil disease and there are no real symptoms for this type of cancer – that’s the scariest part.” 

Based at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI), breast cancer researcher Irene Zinonos is now part of a collaborative word-first prostate cancer research project.

Led by the University of Adelaide’s Associate Professor Lisa Butler, this project aims to help quickly identify life-threatening cases of prostate cancer, compared with cancer that may not require treatment.

Based at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), A/Prof Butler and her team are focussed on lipids (fats), which are the building blocks of cells. They are looking at lipids in prostate tumours as a completely new way of predicting the cancer’s future behaviour. Irene has come on board to help conduct some of the studies required to make this project a reality.

“Lipids are building blocks that make cells and are the energy resource that help cells grow and divide,” Irene explained.

Irene's life-changing research has the opportunity to improve prostate cancer patient's quality of life.
Irene’s life-changing research has the potential to improve the quality of life of prostate cancer patients.

“Cancer cells need even more of these building blocks as they grow uncontrollably and need a lot more energy.  Prostate cancers use lipids as an energy source and not only can they get it from fatty tissue in the body, they can also produce it themselves.”

Dr Zinonos will be working in collaboration with an international team of researchers, looking at the different types of lipids that are present in prostate tumours from different patients.

“The team are hoping to develop a test that measures the lipid profile in the cancer cells to determine whether a tumour is going to be non-aggressive or aggressive,” Irene said.

“This would be an exciting outcome as the biggest issue with prostate cancer we currently have is not being able to determine whether patients need radical therapies or not.”

“The goal for a new test would be that doctors are then able to suggest which treatment may be most beneficial for an individual patient.

Irene explained that cancer used to be called ‘the old man’s disease’ and now a lot of younger people from 50 onwards are being diagnosed, especially men.

“There is a link between being overweight and or obese to more aggressive prostate cancer, however we do not yet fully understand why this is the case,” she said.

“A fit and healthy man is still at risk of developing the disease, which is why it’s important we continue to raise funds for research in this area.”

The researchers involved have the opportunity to improve the quality of life for prostate cancer sufferers if they can find a way to identify what stage the cancer is at, and to better advise patients on the most optimal treatment for their tumour. This is known as personalised medicine.

This research really could be life-changing,” Irene said.

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You can help support research at the BHI!