Research

About our Research programmes

Orchid has over 20 years experience of funding medical research with many notable successes. Orchid’s research programme aims to encourage, support and fund research into the causes, prevention and treatment of male cancers. It has identified new ways to treat male cancers and improved our understanding of how these cancers behave. The charity’s current research programme consists of four programme: molecular biology and cancer genetics, histopathology, cancer epidemiology and clinical trials.

i) Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics

The Orchid-funded molecular biology and cancer genetics programme led by Professor Yong-Jie Lu, focuses on investigating novel genes associated with prostate and testicular tumour development and progression. The team investigates the genetic alterations in prostate cancer and testicular germ cell tumours and looks at their clinical impact, using whole genome screening to identify genes that are markers of diagnosis and indicators of disease progression and also targets for the development of personalised treatment. State-of-the-art technology is applied and new ways of conducting genome-wide genetic analyses continue to be developed to identify genes important in prostate cancer including circulating tumour cells. Our vision is improved diagnosis and targeted therapies for all those men affected by prostate cancer and testicular germ cell tumours.

ii) Histopathology

Histopathology, (looking at tissue under the microscope to diagnose disease and direct treatment,) is a focus of Orchid’s male cancer research, instrumental in enabling the medical profession to better understand, diagnose and treat male specific cancer. The histopathology team led by Professor Dan Berney looks after the internationally renowned Orchid Tissue Bank for cancer research analysis. The Orchid Tissue Bank has the largest collection of penile cancers in a tissue array in Europe, probably the largest testicular tissue bank in the world, and is custodian of the largest series of untreated prostate cancers. The Histopathology programme focuses on the collection and management of the genito-urinary tissue bank, confirming whether tissue samples collected are either tumour tissue or non-tumour tissue and then recording them on a database. The team also constructs tissue microarrays for future research. The histopathology team collaborates with other genito-urinary research groups in the UK and the world including the Trans-Atlantic Prostate Group and conducts its own pathological and molecular research into penile, prostate and testicular cancer.

iii) Cancer epidemiology

Epidemiology involves looking at the incidence of cancer and the risk factors that may be involved in the development of the disease. The Orchid tissue bank supports studies in epidemiology which examine the potential causes and factors that are important in the development of cancer including lifestyle causes, so that we can try to prevent the disease occurring in the first place. One example of our work in this area is led by Professor Yong-Jie Lu, who is collaborating with the histopathology team and researchers in China to explore the genetic difference between Western and Chinese prostate cancer cells. Prostate cancer is much less common in China; his team has been looking at the factors causing the population difference in prostate cancer incidence to establish what is causing these genomic differences with the ultimate goal of bringing the prostate cancer frequency in Western countries down to a similar level to China.

iv) Clinical trials

Clinical trials are key to developing new treatments for the thousands of men who are affected by male specific cancers every year. The Orchid-funded clinical trials programme led by Dr Jonathan Shamash at Bart’s, aims to deliver new treatments to patients presenting with both early and late stage disease with maximum survival rates and a minimum of side effects. The trials ensure that discoveries made in the laboratory are quickly translated into patient care. The team focuses largely on hypothesis based phase II clinical trials (based on pre-clinical work) which form the basis of national phase III studies. They also identify markers, either from translational research or following the analysis of data, to improve our understanding of male specific cancers and to enable medical professionals to identify a patient’s prognosis and the best strategy for their treatment. The Orchid-funded clinical trials team collaborates with a number of national and international cancer centres.

An international testicular cancer study

In March 2013 we approved funding for an exciting new global research study led by Professor Tom Powles, a leading expert in the field of testicular cancer. The aim of the study is to improve the understanding of the development and progression of testicular cancer and to offer the possibility of new treatment and management techniques for men with testicular cancer that has returned and spread beyond the testis – these patients are currently likely to die from the disease. The study will involve collaborations with researchers across the United States, Germany, Italy, UK, France, Denmark and Ireland and now places Orchid firmly on the global map.

Looking forward, there is still much work to be done. The charity is committed to working in areas where there are very real unmet needs and not enough research funding. Building on our current success, informed by the knowledge and expertise of a range of stakeholders, and taking into consideration opportunities and the external environment, Orchid’s long term research strategy is to offer the best possible care and support for men and their families.

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