SCIENTISTS in York have made a discovery which could radically improve the battle against prostate cancer.

Professor Norman Maitland’s laboratories at the University of York have uncovered an important clue which could help prostate cancer research.

The team have identified a mechanism which causes plasma therapy or radiotherapy to fail, with cancer cells regenerating after treatment.

They were working in collaboration with Dr Deborah O'Connell from the York Plasma Institute.

The £100,000 study, funded by a bequest to York Against Cancer, saw Dr John Packer, minutely studying a process known as the Notch response.

He found that signals were attempting to prompt cancerous cells to grow again immediately after radiotherapy.

Professor Maitland said: "The good news for patients is that this doesn’t happen all the time.

"However, if you give a high enough dose of radiotherapy, it will overcome this response and cure the cancer."

The team designed experiments to observe prostate cancer cells every two hours.

It was discovered that the Notch response followed on from a powerful anti-oxidative response and was triggered between four and eight hours after treatment.

By 72 hours after treatment, the targeted cells were either dead or growing again.

Dr Packer also discovered that while most cancer cells were likely to be killed off by radiotherapy, the Notch response could kick-start growth in a small number of cancer stem cells that do not normally grow, resulting in regeneration of both cancer and normal tissues.

Professor Maitland added: "The implication is that if you were able to treat cells with both an inhibitor of Notch and radiotherapy, you would stop the regenerating response.

"This is precisely what we were able to do. It is one of the cleverest pieces of research that we have done in my 28-year career in York."

Dr Packer's research paper has been published by FEBS Letters, the scientific journal of the European Biochemical Society.

This research was funded through a bequest from a local farmer who requested in his will that £100,000 of his legacy to York Against Cancer should be used on prostate cancer research.

Professor Maitland believes that this research could also benefit in the fight against other cancer types, such as breast cancer.