Prostate cancer diagnosis research, which was originally funded by the Basingstoke-based charity Pelican Cancer Foundation, is giving new hope for more effective treatment of patients in the future.
Recent news of a major breakthrough in prostate cancer diagnosis, through the use of multi-parametric MRI scans, revealed that the new method could almost double the detection of aggressive tumours.
The findings of the clinical study, initiated by former Pelican Research Fellow Hashim Ahmed who carried out early trials in London and Basingstoke, could save more lives and prevent around 25,000 men in Britain from painful biopsies every year.
The original study into the treatment of prostate cancer, the most common cancer in British men, was seed-funded nine years ago by the Pelican Cancer Foundation. The charity supports medical research and education to improve precision surgery, detection and treatment of bowel, liver, bladder and prostate cancers.
Initially, Hashim Ahmed received £300,000 funding from Pelican as a Junior Research Fellow to carry out the three year study into the viability of using MRI scans to diagnose prostate cancer, and also the treatment of the disease using Focal Therapy. He has recently been appointed to Professor and Chair of Urology at Imperial College London.
“The diagnostic part of the study was used to guide the treatment, with the precision imaging from the MRI scans enabling us to pinpoint the cancerous cells much more effectively,” said Professor Ahmed.
Working in a close-knit team, led by Professor Mark Emberton and with radiologists Alex Kirkham and Clare Allen, he discovered that the scan images of the prostate were much more precise in locating the cancers
“Traditional biopsy testing to date has been very inaccurate because the samples of tissue are taken at random and we can’t see if cancers are present during the procedure. Our MRI scan results showed us if there was any cancer present. And where there is no significant cancer present on the MRI scan, then those patients can safely avoid an immediate biopsy.
“Significant cancers can be treated earlier which should have a real impact on long-term survival.”
Professor Ahmed’s most recent study, funded by the National Institute of Health Research and run by the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit, was published in The Lancet. It showed that 93 per cent of aggressive prostate cancers were detected through MRI scans compared with just 48 per cent of cancers detected through traditional biopsies.
“After the Pelican research, my career was given a boost. I received Medical Research Council Fellowship funding for my PhD and then another fellowship from the MRC of £1.2M, which enabled me to continue my studies into prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Professor Ahmed.
“The research took this long to evolve because expertise was required and we needed to refine the technology before we could carry out the four year study – and that required a lot of resources.
“There was also some scepticism at first from medical professionals and academics. But when the MRI scanning results proved so effective, Mark Emberton and I were pleased to spread the news. We gave lectures and published articles and raised awareness – it was the culmination of many years’ research.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is reviewing the study’s findings to determine whether they should recommend it as standard in their guidelines to the NHS and Professor Ahmed welcomes this.
“Britain’s clinicians and hospitals will have to consider whether MRI tests can be incorporated into their local pathways – by using biopsies alone, we have shown that men will have their diagnosis compromised,” he said.
His work is continuing with the support of a £2m Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity. He hopes his studies will enable more high risk men, those with a family history or from high risk ethnic groups, for example, to be screened in the community by an MRI – similar to the UK’s mammogram screening service for women.
“To move forward with MRI scans, we need improved technology,” he explained. “We have to develop the right tools and IT software for a computer-aided diagnostic programme that can be used by medics at clinics around the country. By raising awareness of prostate cancer, we will be able to improve the outcomes for many men who suffer from this disease.”
“We are delighted to see the ground-breaking results of Hashim’s studies,” said Pelican’s Chief Executive Sarah Crane.
“The informed work of our former Research Fellow will make a positive impact on the diagnosis and resulting treatment of prostate cancer patients in the future if it becomes NHS clinical practice. It will make a real difference to so many lives.”
If you’d like to read more about the research we’ve funded – click here.