Most prostate cancers are slow-growing and do not behave like a cancer at all. This is particularly so for the very common Gleason 6 “cancer” which which lacks the hallmarks of a cancer. This knowledge has lead some doctors to warn against routine prostate cancer screenings and automatic treatment. However, for men with the less common aggressive high-grade form of the disease, early detection may be the key to their survival. Researchers in the United States may have found a way to use bacterial viruses to help sort this out.
Bacteriophage, which is harmless to humans, has a natural tendency to bond with cancer cells and detect PSMA, a prostate cancer flag for aggressive prostate cancer. However, the use of bacteriophages to detect prostate cancer was not effective initially due to the nonspecific adhesion between the phage and certain cell surface receptors.
Researchers in the United States then found that wrapping the bacteriophage with the polymer PEG, it created a sphere around the phage to stop nonspecific cell adhesion. This made detecting cells that that the bacteriophage had bonded to much easier and more accurate.
The goal is to create a biomarker that will allow doctors to detect the presence of aggressive prostate cancers without invasive tests. If successful, the modified bacteriophage will link to cancer biomarkers in a simple blood test and allow doctors to distinguish between aggressive, highgrade prostate cancers which need treatment and, the Gleason 6 “cancer” which does not need treatment.