Wednesday, 27 March 2013

York researchers unveil the driving force behind prostate cancer

In a new study, researchers from the University of York have made a major discovery, finding that the presence of specific gene, in cancer stem cells, is the main driving force behind most types of prostate cancer. The researchers, led by Norman Maitland, believe that their study may open the way for developing new drugs that will target and destroy cancer stem cells, thus leading to more effective treatments.

Maitland and his team have been working on prostate cancer stem cells for a long time and were actually the first to isolate such cells in 2005. Since then, they have been researching on how these cells spread, proliferate and why, unlike normal cancer cells, are so resistant to conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.

According to Maitland, their discovery is a "fundamental shift" in how scientists believe "solid cancers start". Professor further explained, that up until today it was thought that cancer cells arise from normal, healthy stem cells that went wrong somewhere.

“In blood cancers such as leukaemia, DNA is rearranged during an event known as chromosomal translocation, which results in a mutant protein that drives cancer progression. Although similar rearrangements have recently been discovered in solid cancers, until now, they have not been considered as stem cell functions. Our work has challenged this idea.” said Maitland

Image showing worldwide death rates by prostate cancer
Age-standardised death from prostate cancer per 100,000 inhabitants in 2004.

Maitland continues by explaining his team's findings:

“The cells become selfish by surviving outside normal controls that exist in the prostate and thrive at the expense of their neighbours, ensuring that the genetic accident becomes permanent and passed from generation to generation. This process appears to be essential for the initiation of prostate cancer.”

According to the study, these "accidents" are the result of a specific gene, called ERG, which lies within cancer stem cells. When this gene is inappropriately activated, it causes the stem cells to renew more often.

The study was funded by the charity Yorkshire Cancer Research. Kathryn Scott, head of the charity, is very excited with the findings saying that it gives us a deeper understanding of what happens during the first stages of prostate cancer, adding that the study will allow the development of new therapies targeting the aforementioned gene. Ideally, such a therapy would kill all cancer stem cells surviving conventional treatments (e.g. chemotherapy), thus significantly reducing any future risks of prostate cancer relapse & metastasis.

Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the prostate. In most cases prostate tumours grow slowly, often causing no symptoms until it is in an advanced stage.Some common symptoms associated with prostate cancer are:
  • Pain
  • Difficulty in urinating
  • Problems during sexual intercourse
  • Erectile dysfunction

What is prostate cancer, by Dr. Larry Bans

Recent, Related Posts
Stem cells in the treatment of erectile dysfunction following radical prostatectomy: Korean researchers use mesenchymal stem cells to treat erectile dysfunction in a rat model.

Polson, E., Lewis, J., Celik, H., Mann, V., Stower, M., Simms, M., Rodrigues, G., Collins, A., & Maitland, N. (2013). Monoallelic expression of TMPRSS2/ERG in prostate cancer stem cells Nature Communications, 4 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2627

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