Prostate Cancer Canada (PCC) in April launched a national research funding initiative supported by the California-based Movember Foundation that aims to differentiate patients who need aggressive treatment from those who do not. Research teams at three Canadian universities—University of Alberta in Edmonton, University of Toronto, and L’Université de Sherbrooke—received $4.5 million in funding to develop and validate methods to specifically and accurately distinguish aggressive prostate cancer from indolent disease.

The project addresses an issue that has dogged the prostate cancer treatment field for decades: how to know which men need definitive treatment and which will do well with watchful waiting. "These grants will help to answer the question of who to treat and who to monitor," says Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of PCC. "Within the decade, men will have access to these tests and the knowledge they represent to make decisions that will maximize quality of life."

Collectively known as the Movember Translation Acceleration Grants, the projects support work already shown to be promising. “We believe this research will play an important role during the diagnosis and follow-up for prostate cancer,” says John Lewis, MD, of the University of Alberta. Lewis’s team focuses on blood-based detection of the migration switch in prostate cancer to predict metastatic disease. He expects to develop one test that could be available for clinical use within 3 years, and a blood test that will be available in 5-10 years.

Bharati Bapat, PhD, a researcher at University of Toronto-affiliated Mount Sinai Hospital, says developing noninvasive testing methods to distinguish men with benign disease from those with aggressive cancer will help prevent overtreatment. “For example, a urine-based test could eliminate the need for unnecessary, invasive biopsies,” he says. The goal of Bapat’s project is to develop a “simple biomarker-based test in the clinic, which will complement how prostate cancer is managed now and allow for accurate detection of aggressive prostate cancer,” according to PCC.

The project at L’Université de Sherbrooke, run by Robert Day, MD, seeks to verify an “enzyme-based diagnostic test that can tell if a cancer is low-risk or high-risk,” PCC reports. If successful, this test could mean earlier detection of prostate cancer for some, and avoiding unnecessary treatment for others.