Researchers from the Origins of Cancer group have opened the door to a new treatment for prostate cancer which can starve cancer cells.
The breakthrough was discovered by a team led by Associate Professor Jeff Holst at Sydney's Centenary Institute, which identified three specific nutrients that prostate cancer cells need to grow.
"What we've discovered this time around is that prostate cancer cells increase one of the pumps that bring a nutrient called glutamine into the cells," Professor Holst said.
"If we can block the pumps that bring glutamine into the cells, then we can actually starve the cancer cells and stop them from growing."
Professor Holst said an increase in the number of pumps provided the ability to target those pumps and selectively block the cancer cells and not the surrounding normal cells.
Every year in Australia, more than 3,000 men die from prostate cancer and more than 20,000 men are told they have the disease.
Currently there are good therapies for early-diagnosis prostate cancer but not for the cancer in its late stages.
Jim Marshall, 69, was given his diagnosis about five and a half years ago.
"It was very aggressive," Mr Marshall said.
"The score of aggressiveness is Gleason score and mine was nine out of 10.
"So it was a large, locally advanced, aggressive prostate cancer."
After treatment with radiation and hormone therapy, Mr Marshall is now in remission.
"It means I can get about my life," he said.
"I run a group for men with advanced prostate cancer. I have children and grandchildren. And I can take part in the community and family life."
With a Gleason score of nine Mr Marshall said the cancer was likely to return sooner rather than later, however if it does a new treatment may be available from the breakthrough by Professor Holst and his team.
Professor Holst said the next step involved identifying a drug to switch off the nutrient pump.
"And we actually together with some researchers at the University of Sydney have the first such compounds that we're currently testing, first of all in our cell models, but also we're moving into what are called tumour explants where we take a piece of a patient's prostate, grow it in a dish and put these compounds on and see if it's able to stop the cells growing in that context," he said.
Early last year Professor Holst identified a nutrient pump associated with melanoma cancer cells but he said the field of research had grown enormously since then.
"The fact that there's big labs around the world finding these same mechanisms at work in other cancer cells is encouraging because it means if we can get these therapies into the clinic it's going to have broader implications than just prostate cancer," he said.
Jim Marshall is optimistic he will see the new treatment within his lifetime.
"Because it can also affect your sons and grandsons, your nephews and great-nephews more than the general public, many men have, besides worrying about their own future, an eye to what might be useful to other members of their family who may be affected in the future," he said.