Growing Prostate Cancer In Lab

It's being called a critical advance in our efforts to understand the origins and drivers of prostate cancer. Scientists are now able to grow normal and primary cancerous prostate cells from a patient and then implant them into a mouse and track how the tumor progresses.

“This is a new and much-needed platform for prostate cancer research. By matching normal and cancer cells from a patient, we can now study the differences—what molecules are key to tumor development and growth, and, ultimately, match treatments that might disable this cancer," wrote Xuefeng Liu, MD, a member of the Center for Cell Reprogramming (CCR) at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Liu was on the team that created the breakthrough “conditional reprogramming” (CR) laboratory technique that makes it possible to continuously grow cells in a laboratory indefinitely. The method uses special "feeder" cells and a chemical inhibitor.

"This is the only system that can grow healthy and cancer cells as if they were just extracted from a patient, and expand them – a million new cells can be grown in a week – as long as needed," he writes.

And it's not just for mouse-monitoring anymore. The CR method is being used to create living biobanks, regenerative and personalized medicine. Previous applications of the tech have demonstrated CSR's versatility with a variety of tissue types, including lung, breast and colon cancer.

"Prostate cancer is highly heterogenetic – it is different person to person, can be slow growing or rapidly aggressive, or both over time. We really don't understand the basic biology of prostate cancer and that makes it very difficult to find targeted therapies," Liu says. "The use of matched patient-derived cells provides a unique model for studies of early prostate cancer."

The researchers have successfully demonstrated that they can maintain both the patient's unique cell characteristics in both normal and tumor CR laboratory cells. Investigators also demonstrated the malignant properties of tumor cells compared to the matched normal cells.

"Now we can compare what is different between the patient's normal and cancerous cells, and what changes when the cancer cells are allowed to morph into an advancing tumor," Lius writes. "We will then use this technique to explore prostate tissues from other cancer patients. Comparisons between what happens within an individual patient's tissue, and then between patients, will give us priceless information about how we can best diagnose this baffling disease and treat it appropriately."

The study was published in Oncotarget.