Leading scientists uncover vitamin A clue in fight against prostate cancer

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scientists in Yorkshire have discovered a link between prostate cancer and vitamin A for the first time.

A team headed by leading expert Prof Norman Maitland, who was last year awarded £2.15m by the Yorkshire Cancer Research charity for work against the cancer, has found that a prostate specific gene is under the control of retinoic acid – a derivative of vitamin A.

The breakthrough will now lead to laboratory tests on retinoic acid to examine if it can kill prostate cancer stem cells or leave them more susceptible to drugs.

Nearly 41,000 men are diagnosed with the cancer each year in the UK, and it claims the lives of 10,000.

Prof Maitland said: “It has been known for many years that low vitamin A in samples of blood is associated with prostate cancer, but nobody knew the mechanisms involved.” His team achieved international recognition when they became the first to identify prostate cancer stem cells, which are believed to be the root cause of the illness and can survive and repair damage to tumours treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

A type of therapy using retinoic acid is already used against a form of leukaemia and has been hugely successful in improving survival rates from zero to 80 per cent.