Scientists pinpoint gene instrumental to prostate formation and cancer growth

  • 04 August 2012

Researchers funded by Prostate Cancer UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC) have taken a crucial step forward by identifying a gene that's potentially instrumental to the growth of both the prostate gland and prostate tumours. Scientists believe this discovery - published today in 'PLOS ONE' - could lead to improvements in prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment in the future. 

The research team, from the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health, at the University of Edinburgh, made the discovery by studying genes that control the formation of the prostate gland within the supportive or 'stromal' prostate cells. For the first time the team discovered that one of these genes - known as Decorin - may have an important role in tumour growth.

Lead researcher, Dr Axel Thomson, said: "We pinpointed which genes were active in embryonic prostate development and compared their behaviour in the development of prostate cancer. Through this process we were excited to discover that the presence of one gene - Decorin - was reduced in tumours compared to normal prostate cells. This observation suggests that Decorin's normal role may be to slow cancer growth, which is a really exciting possibility. If our suspicions are verified then this could mean that, in the future, measurement of Decorin levels could become a reliable diagnostic test for prostate cancer and also help determine how aggressive the disease is."

The finding comes as part of an ongoing body of Prostate Cancer UK funded research exploring how the environment surrounding cancer cells affects tumour growth.

Dr Kate Holmes, Head of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, said "This type of early stage research is vital to help us improve our understanding of prostate cancer development and move towards finding better ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Every year 10,000 men lose their lives to the disease, yet we still have very little knowledge of how prostate tumours develop and grow. It is vital that more research of this nature is undertaken and supported so that more clues, such as these, can be discovered."

This year, Prostate Cancer UK announced its biggest research spend to date positioning it as the largest single funder of prostate cancer research in the UK. With help from the Movember Foundation, the charity will fund £7million of research per year over the next three years as it steps up its efforts to tackle the disease on every front.