1 Aug 2011
In - Research

Scientists funded by The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Medical Research Council have taken a step forward in understanding how prostate cancer grows, with the discovery of several genes that play an unexpected role in controlling the development of the disease, according to new research published today (Monday) in Oncogene.

The research, which was carried out at The Queen's Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh, used next-generation DNA sequencing, to establish which genes become active or inactive as prostate cancer develops.

The research focussed on the role of stromal cells in the prostate gland - cells which are present in tumours but are not cancerous - that are key in controlling how cancer cells behave and grow.

Lead author, Dr Axel Thomson, explains: "Stromal cells are in effect like the 'puppet masters' of cancer growth and, although not cancerous themselves, they can have a big effect on how tumours grow. The new DNA sequencing technology enabled us to look at these cells in the prostate in great detail and identify genes active in the stromal cells which merit further investigation."

The researchers used a new DNA sequencing technique known as Tag profiling and compared genes that became active in an embryonic prostate, an adult prostate gland and in prostate cancer itself. This determined that the ASPN, CAV1, CFH, CTSK, DCN, FBLN1, FHL1, FN, NKTR, OGN, PARVA, S100A6, SPARC, STC1 and ZEB1 genes were all found to be active when prostate cancer begins to grow.

When the prostate forms inside a developing embryo, there are many powerful regulatory pathways turned on which control the growth of the prostate gland. By finding out which of these genes were active in both the cancer stromal cells and in the embryonic prostate, the team were able to identify those likely to play an important role in controlling cell growth. These could, eventually, be used to slow down the growth of prostate cancer.

Owen Sharp, Chief Executive at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: "This new basic level research has provided us with some important genetic clues about how prostate cancer grows. Through looking at the similarities in cells found in adult prostate tumours with the cells in an embryonic prostate, the researchers have found that it is actually the normal cells of the prostate which are driving and regulating the growth of prostate cancer. These results are particularly exciting as they could potentially be used as a target for the development of new drugs and treatments which could help to slow down, or even stop, the progress of the disease in men."

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