A new experimental therapy to tackle prostate cancers resistant to conventional treatment has shown incredible results.
The therapy, known as Bipolar Androgen Therapy (BAT) was pioneered by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, US, and the initial findings revealed to delegates at the EORTC-NCI-AACR symposium on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Munich, Germany.
For those of you who follow testosterone research this will be surprising – testosterone is often attributed as an aggravating factor in prostate cancer.
Quite why the team chose such as experimental path isn’t clear (the treatment, according to conventional wisdom, is akin to pouring petrol on a fire), but the unexpected results offer much encouragement.
For world-weary readers sick of reading about amazing pharmaceutical sponsored ‘independent’ research, how about this for a quote from the lead in the study, Professor Sam Denmeade;
That will either bring a tear to your eye or a ball to your fist. The research will struggle for funding as there’s no money in it.
Let’s look at the study and the approach they were taking. First though, the backstory…
The perceived wisdom on prostate cancer has always been to eliminating testosterone at source using a form of chemical castration, or block it’s effects.
The key to the Bipolar Androgen Therapy is the ‘bipolar’ part – alternately administering massive doses of testosterone every 28 days via injection, and subsequently starving the body of its natural testosterone via established drugs. The injections weren’t administered directly to the cancerous tissue, but were absorbed by it through the bloodstream.
As it is in early stages the researchers are not totally sure why it works, but it is likely to be due to cell division. The large doses of testosterone causes breaks in the prostate cancer’s DNA which stopped them propagating.
The results were well beyond expectation, with Professor Denmeade saying;
If ever there was a cause worthy of funding by rich philanthropists (Bill Gates, are you still reading?) then it’s this. It needs an altruistic backer because there is no money in it – generic testosterone is cheap and cannot be patented.
Refining this therapy could lead to hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives saved, as prostate cancer is well known as one of the most difficult cancers to treat. Each year in the UK for example, approximately 47,000 men are diagnosed with of which 11,000 will die. A very high mortality rate.
However, caution should be noted. The sample group was small, and one man experienced painful side effects. Whilst Prostate Specific Antigen levels fell in the majority, they didn’t affect all men and the headline grabbing ‘Prostate Cancer Cured!!’ results only occurred in one man.
This is no magic bullet, but a good chance is better than a slim chance, which is better than no chance. Another larger scale trial codenamed Transformer is now being rolled out across the US and aims to enrol 180 participants. I’m guessing based on the Restore study they won’t have too many problems filling the spaces.
A final note : hats off the the brave participants in this study. They don’t often get a mention, but if there weren’t men willing to risk everything on a long shot then we wouldn’t be reporting on this. You might think that they had nothing to lose, but that still took a lot of guts – and for a lucky few it coulnd’t have worked out better.
Good luck to anybody in that situation.