Using Big Data to Understand Biological Pathways of Prostate Cancer Risk Development

Prof Tim Key is an Epidemiologist based at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit (within the Nuffield Department of Population Health). He originally trained and practised as a veterinary surgeon, before taking up further training in nutrition and epidemiology. Tim’s research is trying to establish an understanding of the aetiology (causes) of prostate cancer, with the aim of identifying modifiable factors which can be changed and therefore reduce the risk for developing this disease. The research team is particularly focused on understanding the causes of the more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

The aim is to provide the evidence needed to develop approaches to reducing prostate cancer risk, for example by advice on diet by studying large data sets gathered from UK wide population studies, as well as from international collaborative projects. Some of the best known risk factors for prostate cancer are increasing age, ethnic background, family history and certain genetic factors, but none of these can be changed. The team around Tim has found that a growth factor in the blood (called IGF-I) is positively related to risk of prostate cancer, and a much of their current research is aimed at understanding the broader aspects of this biological pathway and whether it is modified by factors such as diet and body fatness. The researchers are also systematically examining other factors which might affect the risk for developing aggressive prostate cancer, including hormones and nutritional status.

Within Oxford Tim is collaborating with a wide range of epidemiologists, clinicians and biochemists. This includes the Nuffield Department of Population Health (Prof Ruth Travis, Prof Naomi Allen), the Department of Oncology (Prof Valentine Macaulay) and the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (Prof Freddie Hamdy, Prof Hans Lilja). Further collaborators are Prof Richard Martin (University of Bristol) and within the two international consortia Oxford is leading on: EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) and EHNBPCCG (Endogenous Hormones, Nutritional Biomarkers and Prostate Cancer Collaborative Group).

Tim’s research is funded by CRUK and the World Cancer Research fund.