Making strides towards an improved screening test for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the thirdleading cause of death from cancer for men in Canada, but a new GlycoNet technology may help catch lethal prostate cancer sooner.

GlycoNet investigator Dr. Hon Leong (Western University) and his colleagues have identified a carbohydrate biomarker that could identify patients with intermediate-to-high risk prostate cancer using a simple blood test.

Hon Sing-Leong, photo courtesy of St. Joseph’s Health Care London

“We’re quickly realizing that glycomics is representing a whole new range of biomarkers that informs clinicians of how to better treat their patients,” says Leong.

The biomarker, a carbohydrate antigen known to be associated with tumours, is released into the blood with cancer cell debris. Detection is performed with antibodies specific to the antigen, in combination with two other prostate-specific antigens.

This diagnostic tool could be a vast improvement over the current screening test, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures levels of PSA protein in the blood. PSA levels can be elevated for reasons other than prostate cancer, leading to false positives. Research also shows that 23 to 42 per cent of prostate cancers found with PSA testing may never need to be treated. Both false positives and overdiagnosis leads to unnecessary medical procedures and anxiety for patients.

“For the last 15 years, patients have submitted to surgical removal of the prostate, which we are now realizing is often unnecessary. We have the potential, with our technology, to prevent them from undergoing this radical therapy when it is not needed,” says Leong. “Removing the prostate is a significant procedure, and a lot of these men have associated harmful side effects such as incontinence. Our biomarker technology will allow us to prevent over-treatment by directing resources properly to the right patients at the right time.”

The technology would allow clinicians to develop a more rigorous treatment plan, and in turn minimize the overtreatment of prostate cancer, by knowing to what stage the disease has progressed. With a more accurate understanding of the required treatment and outcomes, patients and healthcare providers would have decreased hospital follow-ups, fewer unnecessary invasive procedures, and increased quality of life.

GlycoNet has provided funding for IP protection, as well as guidance on a commercialization strategy to Leong and his team, with hopes that commercialization of the technology won’t be far away.

“The network has been pivotal in helping us to realize the commercial applications of our inventions, while connecting us with other experts regarding the underlying biology and biomarker mechanisms. If we were to do this in isolation, we would not have been able to get as far as we’ve gotten at this point in time,” says Leong. “GlycoNet provided the resources to get this technology into the hands of clinicians.”

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