Anatomy & Developmental Biology

    Research areas

  • Activin, Differentiation, Inhibin, Leydig Cells, Tumours, Cancer, Cancer Biology, Cancer/Carcinogenesis, Stromal Cells, Experimental Models, Immune-Deficient Models, Endocrinology, Prostate, Oestrogen Action, Prostate cancer, Prostate stem cell

Research interests

Unlike many cancers, prostate cancer develops over decades, but when it spreads beyond the gland to other parts of the body, and no longer responds to the usual hormone therapies, there are very limited treatment options for the patients. "That is where our research is focused; we are trying to develop something for men who have end-stage disease.' Androgen-deprivation therapy is used to treat prostate cancer that has spread. It is effectively castration by drugs, depriving the body of the hormones that fuel tumour growth. Although it's effective, some cells always remain. "In some patients, they eventually regrow and they are lethal,' Gail says. Those are the cells she wants to target. In the past, oestrogen therapy came with dreadful side effects but Gail sees great promise in the carefully designed hormones it is now possible to make. 'We have just found a way that oestrogens might be used to effectively target those cells, working differently to the old therapies, without the bad side effects.' With the collaboration of urologists, oncologists and other clinicians, the discovery is being tested on human tissue specimens. Work on benign disease is just as important because it affects so many men. Although current drugs can be effective, many men have surgery.'There is an irony in the focus on prostate cancer, because most men, if they live long enough, will develop benign disease and yet relatively less research dollars and time are devoted to this aspect of prostate health, and we could do much better.' In both diseases, for example, stopping regeneration is important: in benign disease to prevent enlargement of the prostate, and in cancer to prevent growth of tumour cells. 'In both of those instances, we think that oestrogens can be useful,' Gail says. Although she notes that many myths exist about the complementary (or herbal) medicines often taken for benign disease, some have components that function like oestrogens. More knowledge of the mechanisms involved could lead to better, more potent drugs. 'There will come a time when we have to marry what we're doing with new drugs and what is known in traditional medicine to be effective,' 'Can what we do give some validity to using these complementary medicines? "That's a tough question but we've thought a lot about it." Prostate disease predominantly affects older men, but work on it is very much a forward-looking enterprise and Gail puts much emphasis on the need to train the next generation of experts. "This is not a disease that's going to be cured overnight." "We need a workforce of scientists and clinicians to continue the research."

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