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01 May 2018

Revealed: the ‘city’ of cells supporting prostate tumours

A study led by researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) has shed light on the cells that surround and support 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.  

This research was funded by Cancer Australia, the Australian NHMRC, Cancer Institute of New South Wales, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. 

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


About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the newly established Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.

About the Garvan Institute of Medical Research

The Garvan Institute of Medical Research is one of Australia's largest medical research institutions and is at the forefront of next-generation genomic DNA sequencing in Australia. Garvan’s main research areas are: cancer, diabetes and metabolism, genomics and epigenetics, immunology and inflammation, osteoporosis and bone biology, and neuroscience. Garvan’s mission is to make significant contributions to medical science that will change the directions of science and medicine and have major impacts on human health.