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Getting Closer to the Origins of Prostate Cancer
Date:9/9/2009

Newly discovered stem cell, common STD could help spur tumors, studies find

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Two studies take significant steps toward solving major mysteries about prostate cancer -- the exact spot in the gland where tumors can originate, and how to distinguish fast-growing malignancies that are life-threatening from the slower-growing kind that can safely be left alone.

One study, reported in the Sept. 9 online edition of Nature, describes a previously unknown form of prostate stem cell that can become cancerous if genetic controls go haywire. The prostate consists of several layers of cells, with the lowest, the basal layer, playing a supporting role and the luminal layer, just above it, doing the actual work of the gland.

"Up until our paper, it was thought that all the stem cells in the prostate reside in the basal layer," explained study co-author Cory Abate-Shen, a professor of urology, pathology and cell biology at Columbia University's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, in New York City. "We have found a second stem cell population that is luminal rather than basal."

The discovery was made in mice, and the next step is to show that the same kind of stem cells exist in humans. "But this work partially explains how you can have a prostate cancer that is luminal," Abate-Shen said.

The research group already is looking for similar stem cells in human prostate glands. "If we can identify them in humans, we can analyze them molecularly," Abate-Shen said. "We want to do battle with these stem cells."

The mouse work showed that the newly described stem cells can give rise to cancers if the action of a tumor-suppressing gene is lost. That gene is frequently mutated in human prostate cancers.

If the same kind of stem cells are found in human prostate glands, "that would give us a tool to study where and how prostate cancer originates," Abate-Shen sa
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