What is it about?

In Germany, prostate cancer (PCa) is the most prevalent malignancy and the third-leading cause of cancer death among males. Worldwide the numbers are very similar. Transrectal punch biopsy is still frequently required to confirm the diagnosis and separate it from benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is also fairly common. This surgery not only hurts but also comes with a number of potential dangers. This is the reason why we were inspired to create the framework for a novel method that distinguishes between the two diseases using minute genetic traces found in urine. Little genetic material fragments that are naturally discharged in urine were utilised for this. These amplified micro RNAs and piwi-interacting RNAs were isolated from modest volumes of a urine sample. These are brief genetic information molecules that cannot be translated into proteins. They control the transcription and movement of gene information instead. These fragments can be read out rapidly and accurately in specialized labs using so-called next-generation sequencing. The genesis and progression of PCa appear to be influenced by the RNA (ribonucleic acid) segments. These short RNAs have been examined to look for a pattern in over 2,500 of them. Bioinformatics also created machine learning algorithms that independently browsed the data for this purpose. In actuality, patterns were ultimately discovered that, with a high level of probability, could distinguish between benign and malignant prostate illness.

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Why is it important?

The painless and risk-free examination method would have obvious advantages for patient safety and comfort. As researchers we are pleased with the clear results of our investigation and hope that they can soon be applied. Nevertheless, we are aware that we have only laid a groundwork. Further research on larger patient groups is needed in advance to confirm the work.


The development of a clinical test kit based on the data would be the best perspective. For this, we hope to find interested partners from industry or a skilled start-up company. This would get close to every clinical scientist's dream: from bench to bedside.

Dr. med. Lukas Markert
Universitat Witten/Herdecke

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This page is a summary of: Small RNAs as biomarkers to differentiate benign and malign prostate diseases: An alternative for transrectal punch biopsy of the prostate?, PLoS ONE, March 2021, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0247930.
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