A study led by researchers at the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research has shown that the cells responsible for generating deadly prostate cancer share some genetic qualities with the tissue-specific stem cells that are naturally present reside in the healthy prostate. The findings could lead to new therapies that could reverse or stop the cancer’s progression. The study was published on October 12 in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Pinpointing the cellular traits of cancer, what makes those cells grow and spread, is crucial because then we can possibly target those traits to reverse or stop cancer’s progression,” explained lead author Owen Witte, M.D., founding director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center. He added, “Our findings will inform our work as we strive to find treatments for aggressive prostate cancer.”
Dr. Witte and the study’s first author Bryan Smith, collaborated with researchers at UC Santa Cruz to explore the genetic characteristics of aggressive prostate cancer, which spreads, or metastasizes, to other organs in the body. For the study, the investigators analyzed biopsies from living patients with metastasized prostate cancer who are participating in clinical trials for the Stand Up To Cancer initiative. The biopsy analysis provided the team with a 91-gene “signature” for the stem cells that are naturally present in prostate tissue. When the researchers compared this signature to genetic data from patients with aggressive prostate cancer, they found that normal prostate tissue stem cells and aggressive prostate cancer cells have similar characteristics.
“Evidence from cancer research suggests that aggressive cancers have stem–cell-like traits,” said Bryan Smith, a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Witte’s lab. He added, “We now know this to be true for the most aggressive form of prostate cancer.”
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in the United States, after lung cancer. Standard treatments include surgery, radiotherapy and hormone suppression therapy. The malignancy is often treatable, but the odds of survival drops significantly if the tumor becomes resistant to traditional therapies and metastasizes. When this occurs, few treatment options remain for prostate cancer patients.
“Treatments for early stage prostate cancer are often successful, but therapies that target the more aggressive and late-stage forms of the disease are urgently needed,” explained Dr. Witte. He added, “I believe this research gives us important insight into the cellular nature of aggressive prostate cancer