WASHINGTON, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Researchers have discovered stem cells in the prostates of mice and grown complete prostates from them, a big step towards regenerating organs from a patient’s own cells.
The team at California-based Genentech Inc DNA.N said human beings have similar stem cells in their prostates, although they have so far not grown human prostate glands from the cells.
Other researchers said the usefulness of growing a prostate is not clear, but the research might lead to better ways to fight prostate cancer and the common enlargement of the prostate that comes with age.
“A total of 14 prostates were generated from 97 single cell transplants,” the Genentech team wrote in their report, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.
“This is, to our knowledge, the first report to demonstrate prostate generation from a single adult stem cell.”
Stem cells are the body’s master cells, giving rise to various tissues and the blood. They are found throughout the organs, blood and tissue and are in immature form until they generate needed cell types.
Doctors hope to use them some day in a new field called regenerative medicine, in which tailor-made transplants of tissues and perhaps organs can be grown from a patient’s own cells.
In 2006 two teams of researchers said they grew mouse mammary glands from single stem cells.
The Genentech team worked with so-called adult stem cells, taken from baby mice, and not the more controversial embryonic stem cells.
Embryonic stem cells, taken from days-old embryos, can generate any type of cell or tissue in the body but some people, including President George W. Bush, oppose working with human embryos.
The research team, led by Kevin Leong and Wei-Qiang Gao, first found a marker, a protein, that would differentiate prostate stem cells from other cells in the prostate. This marker, C-117, can also be found in the human prostate, they said.
Other stem cell experts said they doubted Genentech would try to grow human prostates but might use the finding for research into prostate cancer and other prostate conditions.
“This is a compelling and important study providing strong evidence not only for the presence of stem cells in the adult prostate, but a way to identify them,” Robin Lovell-Badge of Britain’s Medical research Council said in a statement.
“This extends the number of adult organs in which such tissue-specific stem cells have been found, including skin, brain, mammary glands, and the gut,” he added.
Malcolm Alison of The London School of Medicine and Dentistry agreed.
“The prostate gland provides a life-supportive fluid for sperm, but whether you need to regenerate a new prostate is a moot point, since the prostate simply gives the aging male population serious medical problems,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men in many countries, and is diagnosed in 679,000 men every year, killing 221,000.
Editing by Will Dunham and Jackie Frank