Dr Sheela Jayaraman, Dr Veronica Manduku and Professor Kevin Gaston.

United Kingdom and Kenyan experts are leading a major new international research project to investigate the causes of prostate cancer in East African men.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham, the University of Nottingham, and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) will investigate the importance of immune cells and immune signals in male patients in Kenya and the UK.

The international team is backed by a £660,000 (Ksh.84,000,000) research grant jointly awarded by the UK Medical Research Council and the Kenyan National Research Fund.

In previous work, the team discovered that a protein called PRH stops prostate cells from replicating and invading other tissues. They showed that PRH controls the activity of many genes important in allowing prostate cells to respond to signals from immune cells and that as prostate cancer becomes more advanced the activity of PRH is decreased.

The new project will see researchers finding out how changes in the levels and activity of PRH alter the response of prostate cells to immune signals. The team will collect blood, urine, and prostate tissue samples to determine PRH protein levels in men in Kenya and in the UK. They will also measure the levels of inflammatory signals and immune cells in the blood samples.

Project leader Dr Sheela Jayaraman, from the University of Birmingham Cancer and Genomic Sciences, said: “This project is the result of many years of work in this area and I am excited that we are joining forces with colleagues in Nottingham and Kenya to investigate this disease.

“Radiotherapy and drug treatments are effective treatments for patients with moderately advanced disease, but have serious side effects including osteoporosis and bone fracture. In less advanced cases treatment may be unnecessary as the cancer is unlikely to spread. Better ways of identifying patients who need treatment and better treatments would be of immense value to patients and result in major cost savings.” 

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and this disease has a particularly high incidence in men of African origin. Around 47,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK and this is increasing as men live longer. The incidence of prostate cancer in Kenya and other low- and middle-income countries is also rising and in these countries the cost of treatment and the cost of lives lost to this disease are major barriers to economic development. Inflammation in the prostate is common and an important factor in prostate cancer, but inflammation can have many causes including bacterial and viral infections and autoimmune responses.

Professor Kevin Gaston, from the University of Nottingham (UoN) Cancer Centre said: “Prostate cancer is a global problem and we are proud to be part of this new international project. This work will tell us whether measuring levels of immune signals in blood and PRH in prostate cancer might be a good way to predict which patients require treatment.”

Dr Veronica Manduku, Deputy Director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, said: “This work to explore the role of PRH and inflammatory markers among prostate cancer patients will help us to eventually develop strategies to tailor treatments to those that require it most rather than provide blanket treatments. This will also help us manage costs of care.’’ 

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The Medical Research Council is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-three MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms. The Medical Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation. 
  • The Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is a Kenya government parastatal organisation with the responsibility for health research to improve the health of Kenyans. It is one of the most well developed national research institutes in Africa with a network of centres across Kenya such as the Centre for Clinical Research (CCR), which is home to the current study.