Of Mice and Men: Small Rodents May Help Develop Prostate Cancer Treatment

Researchers in Boston are looking for an effective way to counteract resistance to prostate cancer treatment by comparing mice and men. Working out of a tiny mouse hospital at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, these researches are equipped with miniature ultrasound machines, MRI machines, CT and PET scanners, clinical laboratories, and pharmacies.

Cells have a built-in self-destruct button that reacts to a lack of testosterone. As part of the standard treatment for prostate cancer, the testosterone supply to cancerous tissue is chemically suppressed. However, cancer cells often mutate to produce regular testosterone and a stronger version of this hormone called dehidrotestosterone. Cancer cells may also react to this treatment by deactivating their self-destruct button in order to survive.

A typical tumor contains cells with hundreds of different mutations. Because of this, some cancer researchers feel that a combination of drugs is necessary to treat cancer and to combat cancer-resistance. However, figuring out what mutation combinations are enabling these cancer cells to become resistant to treatment is problematic. This makes determining the right combination of drugs incredibly difficult. The researches at Beth Israel Medical Center hope to solve this mystery soon, using mice.

Thus far, these researches have injected unborn mice with mutated genes linked to prostate cancer. Rather than inject the mice with every mutation, each mouse is given just one or a few mutations that scientists think may be linked to treatment resistance.

This research indicates that mice develop cancer in the prostate and respond to conventional treatment in similar ways to humans. However, as is often evident in humans, the mice’s tumors became resistant to the treatment and began growing again.

Because very few genes are involved in each case of mouse prostate cancer, researchers also aimed to pinpoint the genetic root of treatment resistance in mice. Studying mice with fewer gene mutations than the average human patient offered researchers an advantage. Ultimately, they were able to isolate the cancer genes and move closer toward finding a way around the treatment resistance.

Using this information, researchers then began studying the same genes through human trials. Human patients are paired with and given the same medication as mice who have various combinations of the prostate cancer gene mutations. The mice’s resistance to treatment is then monitored and adapted accordingly for both human and mice patients.

Preliminary results from these studies have been positive for both mice and men. Researchers hope this positive trend continues as the study progresses.

[Source: The New York Times]