London, October 25 : A team of scientist from San Francisco has been successful in growing new prostate glands in mice with the aid of stem cell technology, a breakthrough that may cast light on how prostate tumours develop.
The team from San Francisco were able to isolate single cells with the ability to generate an entire prostate. During the study, the researchers isolated and transplanted back into mice a type of stem cell that divides to form different cell types in the prostate gland, located near the bladder.
The team observed that the transplanted cells developed into entirely new glands.
The researchers, however, said that their work should not be taken to mean that entirely new prostates could be fabricated for men who have lost them because any new gland would have to be connected not only to the urethra, but also to the complex system of nerves controlling its activity.
"Of course the main clinical problem with the prostate gland is not a need for additional ones, but their overgrowth, which often turns to prostate cancer," the BBC quoted Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, as telling Nature magazine.
"However, knowing the identity of these stem cells may eventually allow the development of therapies that specifically target these cells in a way that keeps them under control," Lovell-Badge added.
Professor Malcolm Alison, Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, agreed that the prostate tended to be a cause of "serious medical problems" in older men.
"However, it is a widely held view that cancers originate from normal stem cells, so this discovery will be a significant boost to prostate cancer research aimed at understanding how this deadly disease develops," Alison added.
John Neate, the chief executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: "This study is an important piece in the jigsaw of our understanding of the role that stem cells play in the prostate.
He added: "It gives very clear evidence of the existence of stem cells in the prostate of mice. Scientists think they may work in a similar way in humans. Much research is being undertaken to unravel the role stem cells may play in the development of cancer and how they may respond differently to treatments."