Researchers have identified a cell that could be the “mother” of all prostate tumours, which kill around 10,000 UK men every year.
The scientists successfully triggered cancer in mice with suppressed immune systems by giving them samples of “basal” cells from healthy human prostate tissue, which they had first infected with defective genes known to cause cancer.
It was previously thought that immature luminal cells were the cause of prostate cancer rather than basal ones.
Experts hope the discovery, reported in the journal Science, will lead to better diagnostic tools and more effective treatments for the disease.
The US team began by extracting both luminal and basal cells from non-cancerous human prostate tissue samples and then injecting them with cancer-causing defects.
The results showed that it was basal rather than luminal cells that initiated prostate cancer in the animals.
Dr Owen Witte, from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), one of the study’s senior authors, said: “This gives us a place to look in understanding the sequence of genetic events that initiates prostate cancer and defining the cell signalling pathways that may be at work fuelling the malignancy, helping us to potentially uncover new targets for therapy.”
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