Basal cells found in benign prostate tissue could become human prostate cancer, according to a study conducted by researcher from UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In the study, researcher used healthy tissue from prostate biopsies and separated the cells based on their surface marker expression into groups of luminal cells and groups of basal cells. Then, researchers expressed altered genes known to cause cancer into both cell populations and placed the cells in mice to see which developed cancer.

The research team proved that basal cells found in benign prostate tissue could become human prostate cancer in mice with suppressed immune systems. The results of the study give researchers a clearer understanding of the sequence of genetic events that initiate prostate cancer and define the cell signaling pathways that may play a role in fueling the malignancy.

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“Because of the widespread belief that luminal cells were the root of human prostate cancer, it would have been those cells examined and targeted to treat the disease,” said Andrew Goldstein, a UCLA graduate student and first author of the study. “This study tells us that basal cells play an important role in the prostate cancer development process and should be an additional focus of targeted therapies.”

According to Dr. Goldstein, now that it is known that basal cells are one origin of human prostate cancers, scientists can study pre-malignant basal cells and uncover what they express that the healthy ones don’t, perhaps revealing a new marker for early detection. “If we understand where the cancer comes from, we may be able to develop better predictive and diagnostic tools,” concluded Dr. Goldstein. “If we had better predictive tools, we could look earlier in the process of cancer development and find markers that are better than the current PSA test at catching disease early, when it is more treatable.”