The Tasmanian Prostate Cancer Research Study (TasPaC II)

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men other than skin cancers. Almost one man in eight will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime. In Australia, over 3,000 men die of their disease each year, making prostate cancer the second largest cause of male cancer deaths, after lung cancer. The diagnosis of prostate cancer at an early stage is imperative for its successful management, however current methods of diagnosis and treatment have well-documented limitations.

Family history of disease is one of the strongest risk factors for prostate cancer, indicating that genetic variations (changes in DNA) contribute to a man’s risk of developing this cancer. Identifying these genetic variations is important as it will help us understand how prostate cancer develops and may also lead to the development of new screening and diagnostic tests and allow clinicians to better tailor treatments. Research to date has indicated that prostate cancer is complex and that instead of there being one or two genetic variations that cause the disease, it is likely that there are hundreds of genetic variations, and that these also work in conjunction with environmental factors e.g. smoking.

A proven approach to identifying genetic variations in complex diseases is to study large families with multiple relatives affected with the disease of interest. This is because affected relatives are more likely to share the same genetic variation that has been inherited from a common ancestor. As many relatives share this variation, it is ‘enriched’ in that family, thus making it easier to identify. The Tasmanian population provides an ideal opportunity to utilise this approach as a large proportion of our population today can trace their family history back to about 10,000 families that were present in the colony in the mid eighteen-hundreds. There has also been minimal population migration over the last 200 years, and we have access to excellent genealogical and medical records, allowing us to reconstruct and trace most families to their arrival in Tasmania.

Based on the unique advantages Tasmania offers, we have established the Tasmanian Prostate Cancer Research Study (TasPaC II). This study has an overall objective of identifying genetic variations that predispose men to the development of prostate cancer. To date, we have recruited multiple relatives, both male and female, from 52 Tasmanian families. One of these families has just over 140 male relatives with prostate cancer!

To identify genetic variations that increase risk of prostate cancer, we need to perform detailed genetic experiments on samples (saliva, blood and/or tumour tissue) from individuals from these Tasmanian families. These individuals can be male or female, affected or unaffected with prostate cancer, in fact all relatives from these families are valuable for our research. For this study, we use many different experimental methods to identify genetic variations in these families, including PCR to investigate a single variation, and cutting-edge sequencing technologies to investigate millions of variations. We are also able to investigate the function of these variations (for example, how they change the way a gene works) by studying prostate tumour samples.

This project is a participant-based study.

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