Our Research

The Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ (PCFNZ) has a proud history of supporting innovative research projects that seek to improve clinical outcomes, further our knowledge of prostate or testicular cancer, inform approaches to high quality support for those affected and assist us to advocate towards eliminating death and suffering from prostate and testicular cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand.

With the generous support of caring kiwis who share our vision, we have been able to find and support projects that have made a vital difference to the way men are diagnosed, treated and supported through their experience of prostate cancer in Aotearoa.

We’ve collected some examples of the research we have made possible below. If you would like to join us and support our efforts to make a positive difference to the more than 4000 men who will be diagnosed this year please visit our Make a Donation page to make a contribution. With every little bit of good, we can make a big difference.

If you’re a researcher, you think your ideas can make a difference and would like us to support you, take a look at our research grant information here.

Immunotherapy for prostate cancer 

Cancer immunotherapies are treatments designed to use the body’s own immune system to fight cancers. At the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research , research funded in 2019 by the Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ,  and led by PhD student Dr Ellie-May Jarvis and team, investigated whether specialised cells within the immune system, called mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells, might be targeted for prostate cancer immunotherapy. This research project focused on isolating MAIT cells from patient’s blood and investigating whether they can be activated to target prostate cancer cells using specific compounds alone or in combination with other cancer immunotherapies. 

The study findings were published in 2021 in Frontiers in Immunology. They found that the MAIT immune cells that reside in prostate tissue can function abnormally and have an abundance of a molecule called PD-1 on their surface. When these MAIT cells were activated using a vitamin B variant and the PD-1 molecule was blocked, it resulted in anti-tumour activity that destroyed the cancer cells. Researchers in New Zealand and overseas are now exploring various immunotherapies that activate MAIT cells, and this research suggests that blocking PD-1 in conjunction with these might be important for cancer therapy. 

Evaluation of high risk prostate cancer patients using 68Ga-PSMA PET/CT prior to radical prostatectomy

Despite the advances in modern medicine, we still are not clearly able to tell when cancer has spread and when it hasn’t with any great certainty. With this study, Dr Remy Lim, Dr Andrew Williams and Dr Madhu Koya in Auckland hoped to clarify that a new type of xray scan (PSMA-PET) could tell us which patients with prostate cancer will not benefit from surgery (and avoid undergoing needless surgery) as well as which patients will benefit from more aggressive surgery to attain a cure. The scan is currently not funded by the government due to a lack of NZ base data, so this study hoped to clarify the significant advantages in adopting this scan as a standard of care in NZ.

A total of 49 patients were prospectively enrolled into the study over the study period from May 2016 to December 2017. Of the 17 patients that underwent a change in treatment plan because of the new scan, 3 patients had CT findings suggestive of metastases which were confirmed with PET findings. The other 14 patients had findings evident only on PSMA-PET such as sub-centimetre, morphologically normal nodes. The change in treatment this indicated was for clinicians to not proceed with surgery that would have been physically challenging and of no clear benefit to the patient and would cost upwards of $30,000. As such, the conclusions of the study were that pre-operative PSMA-PET CT is a cost-effective scan with a high impact on management of patients with high-risk prostate cancer.

Investigation of a tumor-assisted peptide library as an immunotheraputic vaccine for prostate cancer 

This project was undertaken by Dr Sarah Young and her team at the University of Otago. It was designed to develop a new immunotherapy for prostate cancer based on therapeutic vaccination.

The candidate vaccine developed during this project, PCApep VLP, showed marked promise during early phases of testing, including in vitro and in vivo immunological assays in mice. This vaccine design can also be adapted for use in human prostate cancer with relatively minimal manipulation of the production protocols and could also have applications for other forms of cancer.

Two additional vaccine constructs were also developed in this project, TRIpep-SP and TRIpep-LP VLP, which are prostate cancer specific with known vaccination targets. The four main objectives for this project were completed, with sufficient data produced for publication and for the justification of new projects in this field.

Further research into these immunotherapeutic vaccines will include confirmation of efficacy against robust models of prostate cancer, in addition to human adaptation for use in a patient setting.

Lutetium-177 pilot study

This pilot study was undertaken by Dr Remy Lim and his team at Mercy Radiology in Auckland. Its purpose was to evaluate the feasibility of administering Lutetium-177 to patients with metastatic castrate resistant prostate cancer.

Lutetium-177 is a radionuclide substance that emits damaging radiation which will destroy nearby cells. In this therapy, it is combined with PSMA protein, which seeks out PSMA receptors found on the majority of the prostate cancer cell surfaces. Once Lutetium-177 PSMA is infused into a patient’s bloodstream, it will target and bind to PSMA receptors on prostate cancer cells. Damaging radiation from the Lutetium-177 will, over time, result in death of the prostate cancer cells.

Lutetium-177 was imported from ANSTO, Lucas Heights, Sydney, Australia. Production of Lutetium-PSMA was performed in-house by trained technologists and administered at Mercy Radiology PET/CT centre in Epsom, Auckland, under the supervision of Dr Lim, who spearheaded the pilot study. The study has provided the catalyst for Lutetium-PSMA therapy to be offered to men from all over New Zealand with referral from treating oncologists.