IT now claims more lives in the UK than breast cancer, and when hormone therapy fails prostate cancer is usually fatal.

But new research aims to stop that from happening.

Prostate cancer researchers in Glasgow are investigating a new way to fight the disease by supercharging patients' own immune systems to wipe out tumour cells before they become resistant to treatment.

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They hope that their work will prevent cases of incurable prostate cancer.

The three-year Glasgow University study, which is being funded with £250,000 from charity, Prostate Cancer UK, will target proteins called caspases.

Currently, advanced prostate cancer is mainly tackled with a hormone treatment known as androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT), which triggers cancer cells to kill themselves using these caspases proteins.

The treatment eventually fails in most cases as cancer cells learn to evade it. This becomes known as ADT-resistant prostate cancer, and is nearly always terminal.

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Now researchers at Glasgow University will test a new approach based on immunotherapy.

Professor Stephen Tait said: “We’ve found that if we stop these caspases from working the hormone therapy kick-starts your immune system to kill these cells instead.

"Even better, it clears up cancer cells that were missed by the initial treatment and may even protect men against prostate cancer in future."

The study will seek to prove the theory with tests on laboratory-grown cancer cells, animal models and tissue samples from patients, before hopefully progressing on to human clinical trials.

Prof Tait said that, if successful, he expects patients would be given immunotherapy alongside hormone treatment in future.

He said: "It has been considered one of the cancer types that's difficult to treat with immunotherapy, but our data would suggest that if you kill the cancer cells in this particular way you can actually alert the immune system to any remaining prostate cancer cells.

"The mainstay treatment for advanced prostate cancer is androgen deprivation therapy, but unfortunately it's just a matter of time before it starts failing.

"Our idea is to kill prostate cancer cells in this alternative way - by alerting the immune system and hopefully eradicating the cancer.

"I think probably it would be applied earlier on in treatment, before there's any resistance to hormone therapy, so that patients never get to the point of having a resistant tumour."

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Catherine Cowie, 61, welcomed the research. The mother-of-two from Ayr has raised £4000 for Prostate Cancer UK through the charity's 'March for Men' walks since losing her 55-year-old husband, Euan, to the disease in 2014.

Mr Cowie, a business consultant, had visited his GP days before Christmas in 2013 complaining of lower back pain and weight loss.

"I think he thought he'd probably strained his back doing sport," said Mrs Cowie. "It was the first time he'd been to the doctor in many years."

A blood test revealed that his prostate specific antigen(PSA) level was unusually high and doctors later confirmed that he had advanced prostate cancer which had spread to his bones.

Mr Cowie's condition was too advanced to respond to hormone therapy and radiotherapy could only relieve some symptoms of the disease. In November 2014, just ten months after his diagnosis, Mr Cowie died.

Mrs Cowie, a retired lecturer who now works part-time as a counsellor, said: "That is what's so exciting about this research at Glasgow, that it's a potential approach to treating people with advanced prostate cancer.

"It's exciting and heartbreaking at the same time. It's too late for us but hopefully it won't be too late for other people."

Around 900 men in Scotland die from prostate cancer every year, but there are currently no routine NHS screening programmes for the disease. PSA blood tests are considered too unreliable to use as a blanket detection tool.

Following his brother's illness, Mr Cowie's younger brother went on to be tested and diagnosed with the disease. Luckily it was picked up early.

"He's been treated and he's very well now," said Mrs Cowie. "That's a life saved through early diagnosis."

Dr Matthew Hobbs, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK said: “Prostate cancer is on target to become the UK’s most commonly diagnosed cancer by 2030, making it more important than ever to fund innovative research like this. At Prostate Cancer UK, we are totally focused on using our expertise to keep funding the research that will tame this disease.

“Men with advanced prostate cancer are left with limited options if the cancer becomes resistant to hormone treatment, and the pioneering research taking place at the University of Glasgow could pave the way for gamechanging new treatments."