|CANCER CELLS (nuclei in blue) in a prostate tumor are seen expressing different stem-cell traits (in green and red). The yellow areas indicate where the two stem-cell traits are expressed together.
Image: Courtesy of Dr. Owen Witte
Scientists at the UCLA Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research have shown that the cells responsible for generating deadly prostate cancer share some genetic qualities with the tissue-specific stem cells that naturally reside in the healthy prostate.
“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,” says Owen Witte, MD, founding director of the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center. “Our findings will inform our work as we strive to fi nd treatments for aggressive prostate cancer.”
Dr. Witte and postdoctoral researcher Bryan Smith, PhD, worked with collaborators from UC Santa Cruz to investigate the genetic characteristics of aggressive prostate cancer, which spreads, or metastasizes, to other organs in the body. The research team analyzed biopsies from living patients with metastasized prostate cancer who are participating in clinical trials for the Stand Up To Cancer initiative. Biopsy analysis provided the team with a 91-gene “signature” for the stem cells that naturally reside in prostate tissue. Comparing this signature to genetic data from patients with aggressive prostate cancer, the researchers found that normal prostate-tissue stem cells and aggressive prostate-cancer cells possess similar characteristics.
“Evidence from cancer research suggests that aggressive cancers have stem-cell-like traits,” Dr. Smith says. “We now know this to be true for the most aggressive form of prostate cancer.”
“Treatments for early-stage prostate cancer often are successful, but therapies that target the more aggressive and late-stage forms of the disease are urgently needed,” Dr. Witte says. “I believe this research gives us important insight into the cellular nature of aggressive prostate cancer.”
“A Basal Stem Cell Signature Identifies Aggressive Prostate Cancer Phenotypes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 12, 2015