Introducing Dr Jorge de la Rosa!

Jorge's project starts today

The seasons are shifting. The clocks have fallen back to mark the end of British Summer Time. On the High Street, Hallow’een decorations are being cleared to make way for Christmas lights. Today, November 1, is All Souls Day for those who mark it – and it’s also the official start date of two of the scientists funded from our 2019 grant call.

“We aim to identify and understand the faulty genes that cause human prostate tumours to spread, and eventually find the “vulnerabilities” of these disseminated cancers. I am very grateful to PCRC and I feel very excited about this work, which I hope will bring new prognostic and therapeutic opportunities for people with prostate cancer.”

Dr Jorge de la Rosa

Congratulations to Dr Jorge de la Rosa and Professor Iain J McEwan for getting their exciting projects off the ground. In today’s post, we’d like to introduce you to Dr de la Rosa and his work. Check back soon to learn more about Professor McEwan.

It’s in our DNA

Just as bricks are the basic building blocks to make up a wall, cells are often called “the building blocks of life.” So tiny you need a microscope to see them, the question of how many cells are in the human body has actually proven quite a tricky question to answer –but scientists have estimated about 37.2 trillion cells live and work together to make up an average human.

Cells look and behave differently according to the jobs they do – so a prostate cell will be different from a blood cell, for example.

But the differences we think most about are the differences between normal, healthy cells, and cancer cells. Why do normal cells change into cancer cells? Can we stop or reverse this?

Just like computer software, cells are written by codes. And DNA is what writes the codes to make or break a cell, or make it behave in a certain way. This is why cancer researchers are so interested in DNA.

On and Off Switches for Cancer

DNA is found in genes. Two types of gene are important in cancer: “Oncogenes” which are like on switches and “tumour suppressor genes,” which are like off switches.
Inside our cells there are “on switches” which tell cells to grow and make more copies of themselves, and “off switches” which stop cells growing and dividing.

Just as a car operates safely as long as both the accelerator and the brakes are working, cells can stay healthy when the on and off switches are both working. Oncogenes are accelerators, tumour suppressor genes are the brakes.

PTEN is a ‘tumour suppressor’ brake or off switch which doesn’t work properly in almost half of advanced prostate cancers and is the focus of Jorge’s work.

Complex Networks and Crossed Wires

PTEN doesn’t work properly in almost half of advanced prostate cancers. The problem is that switches like PTEN are just one part of complicated networks, like the wires inside a computer or the switches in a fuse box. When a normal cell turns into a cancer cell, it can be hard to work out which switches have tripped, and how many other things need to happen alongside the change we already know about to make cancers grow and spread. This project is investigating what else happens when PTEN is lost, and how these changes inside the cell work together to drive the growth and spread of prostate cancer.

Jorge will create a novel in vivo genetic tool which can alter hundreds or even thousands of genes at once. This new tool could significantly boost overall prostate cancer research because at the minute, science is identifying genetic changes much more quickly than we can work out what these genetic changes do. By using this tool, scientists will search for genes that cancer cells need to survive, but which our healthy cells don’t need. This tells us which wires we should cut to stop prostate cancer.

About Jorge

Jorge de la Rosa studied biology and completed a PhD in his native Spain. Jorge’s PhD research revealed that a protein causing premature ageing, called prelamin A, can also protect from cancer, settling decades of debate in the research community.

Following on from his PhD, Jorge was awarded a prestigious FEBS Long-Term Fellowship, and decided to move to Cambridge in 2014 to pursue his scientific career under the supervision of Prof. Allan Bradley. His postdoctoral studies focused on using complex genetic models and screening approaches to gain insights into the genetic and non-genetic mechanisms driving prostate cancer. Early this year Jorge was appointed Associate Principal Investigator at the University of Cambridge, hosted by Prof. Bradley in his laboratory.

“Cambridge has a long-standing, international reputation for excellent science, and PCRC’s two new Cambridge-based projects, led by Dr Jorge de la Rosa and Dr Harveer Dev, will only add to that. Learning more about how PTEN drives cancers to grow and spread, and about which men are most likely to respond well to drugs which damage cancer DNA could make big improvements to how we treat prostate cancer.”

Dr Naomi Elster Research and Communications Manager

Want to know more?

We’ll soon be working with our new scientists to create project pages, such as we have for our current PCRC projects, to really bring these exciting new projects to life. In the meantime, if you want to know more, contact us at info@pcr.org.uk.

Patient Voice

A panel of prostate cancer patients and their family members helped us to select these projects. If you have been affected by prostate cancer and would like to use your experiences to help other patients, email patientvoice@pcr.org.uk for more information.

Researchers

If you are a researcher and would like to be kept informed of future grant calls, please email grants@pcr.org.uk with ‘Grant Call Opt-in’ in the subject line.

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