Revealed: The city of ‘cells’ supporting prostate tumours

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Australian men, causing the deaths of more than 3,000 men a year. This new understanding may help increase the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis in the future.

The study, led by Professor Susan Clark and Dr Ruth Pidsley from the Garvan Institute and Professor Gail Risbridger and Dr Mitchell Lawrence from the Monash BDI, investigated how cells that are adjacent to tumours differ from those that are more remote.

The team found key changes in the DNA, which may explain how adjacent cells change their behaviour to help tumours grow.

“Most prostate cancer research to date has focused on the cancer cells themselves, the new study set out to explore the ‘city’ of the tumour microenvironment,” said Dr Pidsley.

“What hasn’t been clear until our study was how these changes arise and how they’ve been encoded in the cells,” Dr Lawrence said.

“We’ve uncovered for the first time on a genome-wide level precisely the changes that occur in the surrounding cells. This gives us a much deeper understanding about prostate cancer,” he said.

The findings were recently published in the journal Genome Research.

“Just like people in big cities who rely on a complex network of infrastructure for their daily lives, cancer cells depend on the surrounding tumour microenvironment,” Dr Pidsley said.

“The result of our work is a new molecular map of the cellular infrastructure that the cancer cells rely on,” she said.

The ‘map’ of the tumour surroundings was created by measuring chemical marks on the DNA of the tumour-adjacent cells. These marks determine which genes are turned on and off in the cells, and therefore how they function.”

The researchers hope to use the ‘map’ to understand more clearly how the cancer cells grow and spread and to improve identification of prostate cancer in biopsies to improve patient care.

“We think it has important potential application in increasing the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnosis,” Professor Risbridger said.

Professor Clark said that the collaboration combining the skills of scientists, clinicians assisting with patient samples, and computer scientists had been vital to conducting the study.

The team has started further studies extending this one using a larger sample size of patients.

Read the full paper in Genome Research titled Enduring epigenetic landmarks define the cancer Microenvironment.

This article was originally published on the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s website.

ACRF has supported Garvan by providing three grants, totalling AUD 6.1 million towards cutting-edge cancer research equipment and technology.