University of Otago researcher Dr Elspeth Gold and Otago medical student Nemani Delaibatiki reflect on their quest for new diagnostic markers to detect prostate cancer. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Powerful new diagnostic tests for early identification of
prostate cancer will be available within three to four years,
University of Otago researcher Dr Elspeth Gold predicts.
Dr Gold is a lecturer in the Otago anatomy department and
heads a laboratory that is investigating new biomarkers and
treatments for ''high grade prostate cancer''.
''There is an urgent need for prostate cancer specific
markers and for new treatments for men with high grade
prostate cancer,'' Dr Gold said.
And she noted that the ''current marker''- prostate specific
antigen (PSA) - was not ''cancer specific'' and could not
discriminate between benign diseases and prostate cancers
that would remain in the prostate, ''versus those that would
Current treatments could have ''severe side-effects''.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand men,
resulting in 600 deaths a year, with about 2500 new cases
Nemani Delaibatiki, a medical student, spent the summer in
the Gold Lab working on developing a ''biomarker panel'' in
He was supported by a $5000 summer studentship co-ordinated
by the Otago Medical Research Foundation and funded by the
Maurice and Phyllis Paykel Trust.
Dr Gold said Mr Delaibatiki had produced ''some encouraging
A New Zealander with Fijian ancestry, Mr Delaibatiki said his
research had been ''very exciting'' and ''very rewarding'' in
terms of potential health benefits.
Dr Gold said Mr Delaibatiki had initially analysed prostate
biopsy slides using a ''basket'' of 11 markers, with a view
to improving diagnostic accuracy.
The focus had since been narrowed to four diagnostic markers,
and the work would enter a new phase in about two months,
with testing to take place on human archival biopsy material
previously gathered in Otago-Southland.
Existing biopsy tests clearly identified some cases where
medical intervention was needed and others cases which were
of no immediate cause for concern.
But in about 30% of tests, it was hard to be certain about
An ''early proof of concept'' had been shown by Otago
The results were ''exciting enough to want to do further work
over the next six to nine months in the Otago-Southland
''If it still looks promising, then we would like to
undertake larger national studies maybe even international
studies,'' she said.
The laboratory was also making promising progress in its
search for a ''prostate cancer specific marker in blood or