The Whitaker Lab: Getting results for prostate cancer patients

24 May 2019, Tim Burton - 

The Whitaker Lab at UCL has become one of the world’s powerhouse prostate cancer labs. Over the last 5 years they have received half a million pounds of funding from The Urology Foundation, thanks to generous support from the John Black Foundation.

Under the leadership of Dr Hayley Whitaker, the work they’re doing shows why it is so important for TUF to invest in powerhouses like this lab.

The two molecules at the heart of what the lab is doing

Hayley and her team have been focussing their research on a particular molecule that is over-represented in prostate cancers, particularly those cancers that are the most aggressive and the most dangerous. The first of these is NAALADL2 and the second is TBL1XR1.

Whilst neither of these molecules have particularly memorable names, thanks to the Whitaker Lab’s research, they have become the keys to unlocking some of prostate cancer’s biggest secrets.

Hayley’s team are focused on better diagnosis for prostate cancer

At the moment, diagnosing prostate cancer is not a flawless process. The PSA test currently struggles with reliability issues and leads to many men being put forward for further cancer testing when it isn’t needed.

Those further tests start with an MRI scan, but, although a vast improvement on having a random biopsy, the MRI scan isn’t always accurate. Sometimes the MRI scan detects what appear to be cancerous tumours, but which then turn out to be non-cancerous and some cancerous tumours are missed by the MRI scans. Importantly up to 40% of scans are ‘equivocal’ - where it isn’t clear if there is cancer present or not.

This means that some men are sent forward for painful biopsy operations which, like with any operation, carry a certain amount of risk and take up hospital time and resources. The pain, risk, time, and resources are all worth it if it means that the cancer can be detected and treated in time, but how many of these operations aren’t necessary? Hayley’s research could solve that.

Providing men with peace of mind

Hayley’s lab is currently working to produce blood tests that can detect NAALADL2 and TBL1XR1. If these molecules are found to be prevalent in a blood test that is taken alongside an MRI scan that picks up signs of a tumour, then it would indicate that the patient probably does have prostate cancer and needs a biopsy and further treatment.

Equally, if the scan is inconclusive and the blood test does not detect these molecules, it would mean that the patient and doctor can confidently make the decision not to proceed with the biopsy operation and any further treatment.

This research is all about getting patients the right diagnosis at the right time. The sooner and more accurately a cancer can be diagnosed, the better the chance of successfully treating and curing it. It could save the lives of millions of men worldwide.

Hayley’s lab is set up for success                     

The Whitaker Lab works out of UCL at a site that has led the way on using MRI scans to diagnose prostate cancer. Working with this team of experts and other world-leaders at UCL, like radiologist, microbiologists, pathologists and clinicians, Hayley’s team are in a unique position.

Being surrounded by leading experts and being able to work closely with a large London hospital, which can provide blood tests and tissue samples, The Whitaker Lab has become a powerhouse of successful prostate cancer research.

TUF invests in labs like Hayley’s because they are an excellent and efficient way to get the kinds of results that will make a real difference in the lives of prostate cancer patients.

As well as making diagnosis far better than before, Hayley’s lab is also looking at using their knowledge of NAALADL2 and TBL1XR1 to devise new drugs that can slow down prostate cancer. The future for prostate cancer patients looks brighter thanks to the Whitaker Lab.

If you would like to help us invest in more labs like Hayley’s you can donate today.


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