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Prostate Cancer Starts from Previously Unknown Cell

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Scientists, for the first time, have discovered one cell that leads to the development of prostate cancer that was previously unidentified. Researchers at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found a cell-of-origin that leads to human prostate cancer that could lead to new therapy for treating the disease.

Findings of how prostate cancer begins would lead to better testing for the disease that catches prostate cancer early and to better treatment. Until now prostate cancer was believed to develop from luminal cells. The UCLA team has discovered the disease instead starts in basal cells.

Dr. Owen Witte, a Jonsson Cancer Center member and director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center says, "Certainly the dominant thought is that human prostate cancer arose from the luminal cells because the cancers had more features resembling luminal cells. But we were able to start with a basal cell and induce human prostate cancer and now, as we go forward, this gives us a place to look in understanding the sequence of genetic events that initiates prostate cancer and defining the cell signaling pathways that may be at work fueling the malignancy, helping us to potentially uncover new targets for therapy."

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Witte explains the researchers were able to find the cell-of-origin for prostate cancer by taking a different approach. The scientists took healthy cells and turned them into prostate cancer, rather than studying cancer cell lines.

Andrew Goldstein, a UCLA graduate student and first author of the study says, "There are very few examples of taking benign cells and turning them into cancer experimentally. We usually study cancer cell lines created from malignant tumors. This study resulted in the creation of a novel model system that is highly adaptable, such that we can test any cellular pathway and its interactions with other genes known to induce cancer, and we can start with any type of cell as long as it can be reproducibly purified."

Dr. Witte points out that targeting androgen receptors for prostate cancer treatment is not always effective. There is also a lack of knowledge about the beginnings of prostate cancer. When PSA levels elevate prostate cancer is already developing. The discovery that the basal cell is the cell-of-origin or beginning of prostate cancer, researchers can catch the disease early. Therapy aimed at pre-malignant basal cells would thwart prostate cancer before it becomes aggressive.

Science 30 July 2010:
Vol. 329. no. 5991, pp. 568 - 571
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189992