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Are basal prostate cells “trigger cells” for development of prostate cancer?

Posted Jul 30 2010 12:00am

Media reports are stating that a research team at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center in Los Angeles have identified basal prostate calls as having the potential to become cancerous and therefore lead to the development of clinically identifiable prostate cancer.

The actual paper by Goldstein et al. reporting these results appears today in Science. You can also find commentary in The Medical News , on Sify News , on  the Los Angeles Times‘ Booster Shots blog, and elsewhere on line.

To see the media release issued by the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, please click here .

Dr. Owen Witte and his colleagues have been working on the question of which cells in the prostate may be the “trigger cells” for initiation of the development of prostate cancer for some time. So this report does not lay out an entirely new idea. What their latest paper does is continue to confirm the hypothesis that they have proposed, which is that it is basal cells (in addition to or possibly even instead of) luminal cells are the the cell type most likely to act as the initial trigger cells in which prostate cancer can start. Obviously, knowing exactly where and how prostate cancer starts has major implications for research into how to prevent and/or reverse such initial triggering events.

From an anatomical point of view, you need to understand that the prostate is a gland that is filled with a network of very small small tubules. So-called luminal cells  comprise the inner layers of these tubules, and they produce the fluids and proteins that aid in the ejaculation of semen at the time of male orgasm – the prostate’s main purpose. By contrast, basal cells have a more structural function. With regard to the tubules in the prostate, basal cells coat the outer layers of these tubules.

One of Dr. Witte’s collaborators on this particular study Dr. Andrew Goldstein – has been quoted as saying that, “In our experimental model, basal cells show the ability to form the disease that looks like what we see in humans. We feel very confident that we have recreated something that strongly resembles human prostate cancer. We conclude that basal cells may be a source of [prostate cancer] in humans.”

Obviously a great deal more work will be needed to confirm this research finding, but we may be one step further to a true appreciation of how and why prostate cancer develops.

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