The Prostate Cancer Research Centre, based at the Institute of Urology in the University of London, was awarded a grant of £50,000 in November 2005 to establish the Barcapel Research Fellowship, awarded to senior scientist Dr Aamir Ahmed to manage a team of research scientists working on normal and cancer stem cells.
The research programme aims to isolate and characterize prostate normal and cancer stem cells. The long term goal is to identify proteins on the surface of the cancer stem cells that can be targeted in order to kill the cancer stem cells.
The Prostate Cancer Research Centre has developed a new method for isolating and growing the normal stem cells. In other tissues, such as the nervous system, stem cells can be isolated on the basis of their ability to grow in suspension as colonies. Normally cells die in suspension, but the ability to grow and divide without attachment appears to be another characteristic of stem cells.
The development of colonies that can be serially propagated provides evidence for one of the fundamental characteristics of stem cells, the ability to self renew. The Centre has grown the normal stem cells as prostate spheres and shown that the cells stain for proteins that are normally only found in stem cells. The researchers are now applying the same techniques to prostate cancer samples using similiar conditions.
In taking the decision to award the grant the trustees were influenced by:
- the ambition and expertise of the principal people involved
- their understanding of cancer development and progression
- the fact the research was innovative and ground breaking
- the trustees commitment to “pump priming” projects
Since Barcapel made the award enabling the research, the centre has received further funding from other bodies including two R01 grants from the US National Institutes of Health for their stem cell research – these grants are rarely given to scientists working outside the US. But they said that “the group is clearly doing the very best work on prostatic stem cells in the world”. The scientific journal in which the work was published described the results as “the best bet yet to represent the true prostate stem cell”.