Monday, 25 February 2013

Prostate cancer aggressiveness depends on stem cell source

A collaborative team of researchers from various U.S. cancer centres has discovered, in a mouse model, that the aggressive or slow nature of prostate cancers is dependant on the stem cell type they initially originate from. Specifically, their study shows that cancers which develop in parts of the prostate that have luminal stem cells tend to be more aggressive than the ones developing in areas containing basal stem cells.

The prostate contains three types of epithelial cells, with two types of stem cells existing in two of those:
  • Basal stem cells 
  • Luminal stem cells. 

Picture of a prostate
Prostate, a metal instrument is placed in the urethra

Previously published studies have found that solid prostate tumours usually arise from areas containing stem cells. In this study, the scientists examined and compared the aggression tendencies of prostate tumours originating from these exact locations.The reasoning behind the study was to assess whether or not a different origin source results in a more aggressive cancer.

During the experiments, the researchers first altered the androgen levels of mice, a known method for inducing prostate cancer. As mentioned before, they compared the aggressiveness of various tumours and discovered that the ones originating from areas containing luminal stem cells tended to be more aggressive and difficult to treat than those that originated from basal stem cells. Additionally, the researchers found that stressing stem cells via modulating androgen levels caused some of the basal cells to actually transform  into luminal cells. Moreover, when tumours arose in them later, they were more aggressive, suggesting that there is still an unknown factor related to luminal stem cells, leading to more aggressive tumours.

Now the researchers aim to reconfirm their findings in people. If they do, they believe that in the future a simple biopsy might be enough to offer doctors and patients information about the nature of a prostate tumour.

Prostate cancer is cancer that begins in the prostate, a gland of the male reproductive system. Prostate cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in men over the age of 75. Prostate cancer is rarely found in men younger than 40. Some common symptoms of prostate cancer are:
  • Slow urinary stream
  • Urine leakage, especially after urinating
  • Straining when urinating
  • Inability to empty out all of the urine
  • Blood in the urine and/or semen

Prostate cancer, informational video

Wang, Z., Mitrofanova, A., Bergren, S., Abate-Shen, C., Cardiff, R., Califano, A., & Shen, M. (2013). Lineage analysis of basal epithelial cells reveals their unexpected plasticity and supports a cell-of-origin model for prostate cancer heterogeneity Nature Cell Biology DOI: 10.1038/ncb2697

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