New model for prostate cancer development, progression?

According to reports on a number of science web sites today, a group of researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago has developed an interesting new model which may be useful in exploring the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer. (See, for example, this report on ScienceBlog.)

Historically, laboratory-based models of prostate cancer have come in only two “flavors”: (a) xenograft-based models, in which human prostate cancer cells or tissues are grafted under the skin of animals such as mice and rats and (b) modified cancer cell lines that contain prostate cancer cells that originally came from patients.

The new model, developed by Prins and colleagues, was presented on June 20, 2010 at the annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in San Diego. The actual abstract of the original presentation is available on line (after registration)

This model is based on human prostate cells (not prostate cancer cells) obtained from a deceased organ donor. The organ donor did not have any known prostate disease. Prins et al. isolated the prostate cells and used them to grow adult prostate progenitor cells. These are cells that have stem cell-like properties; they are capable of self-renewal and also have the ability to become cancerous under appropriate circumstances.

Apparently, when grown in a three-dimensional culture, the adult prostate progenitor cells can form small spheroids, called “prostaspheres,” and these prostaspheres are able to regenerate new tissues. Prins and her colleagues combined the human prostaspheres with embryonic cells from the prostate of a rat and transplanted the mixed cells under the kidney capsule of mice. These transplanted cells regenerated as normal human prostate-like tissues and secreted prostate-specific antigen (PSA). When the mice were given a drug pellet containing testosterone and estradiol estrogen, cancerous tumors formed at the transplant sites.

What is important here, to quote Dr. Prins is that, “If you want to study the initial development of cancer — either naturally or induced — or its prevention, you cannot use a model of existing cancer, such as transformed cell lines.” The new model appears to offer a way to better mimic the development of prostate cancer from normal cells and its subsequent progression within a controlled animal and laboratory environment.

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