Unlocking the ageing process in DNA for new prostate cancer treatment

Ashwin Sachdeva, TUF research scholar, is currently looking into new ways to treat men with advanced prostate cancer. The disease at this stage remains incurable and it is urgent that more effective treatments are found so that fewer men will lose their lives.

Based at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research in Newcastle, Ashwin is looking into DNA found in the mitochondria, or the ‘powerhouse’ of the cells. He’s investigating whether particular gene mutations in this DNA, which build up as part of normal ageing, have a direct role in either developing prostate cancer in the first place or aiding the progression of the disease in people who are already affected by it. 

Armed with this information, he hopes to establish whether ageing plays a role in the accelerated progression of prostate cancer, and go on to study the underlying mechanisms, which in turn may lead to opportunities to develop new drugs to treat those with the disease.

This work could be vital to developing better treatments for people who may otherwise feel as if all hope has been lost. “Each year, we have over 40,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 10,000 deaths due to this disease in the UK. This shows you that it is a serious condition and that sometimes the traditional treatments do not work in advanced cases,” explained Ashwin.

He went further to elaborate, “Diagnosing prostate cancer is not always easy as some people have presenting symptoms but others do not. Once you have diagnosed it, you then have to think about how your treatment will affect both the quantity and the quality of life of the patient. There can be side effects of treating this disease, like incontinence and erectile dysfunction. 

“We need to find more effective treatments for men with advanced prostate cancer. With an ageing population, prostate cancer is predicted to be the most common of all the cancers by 2030, so understanding more about it is going to become increasingly important.”

TUF’s Science and Education Committee, who review all the research applications we receive, have great hope for Ashwin’s project. This was highlighted by their choice to award him the inaugural TUF Medal for best research proposal of 2015; a prize
Ashwin was surprised to win. “I wasn’t expecting it. I’m really grateful to TUF for awarding me the medal and for recognising the value of our research ideas. It’s quite an honour really and it’s great to receive some recognition.”

Ashwin also feels that the fact that his proposal was valued in such a way demonstrates how important TUF is to him. “I’m very grateful to TUF for helping me to get my project off the ground. The fact that TUF exists just for urology is very useful to
researchers like me who need funding to get started so we can make a difference in the fight against urological disease. This is just the first year of my PhD so I’m hoping our working relationship will continue for a long time.

I already feel close to the charity as TUF has helped me get started with my research. As a result, I want to give back to TUF in some way. So later this year, I want to do the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100 to raise money that will help other researchers and patients. I think all of us in this field need to give back to the people who fund us and who provide us with the chance to do more research.”

But ultimately, for Ashwin, the most important thing is to improve patient care by improving cancer diagnosis and management. “Prostate cancer, and urological disease in general, is a sensitive issue that people don’t like to discuss. We need people to talk about their symptoms and concerns, so we can offer them the most appropriate treatment and begin to make a difference.”

Every year TUF looks to fund crucial urology research into diseases like prostate cancer. Help us fund others like Ashwin – a donation of £25 today could fund one hour of research tomorrow.


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