In mice, the researchers were able to make individual prostate stem cells grow into new prostates. The same kind of cells can be found in humans, report Wei-Qiang Gao, PhD, and colleagues at Genentech Inc., South San Francisco, Calif.
Gao and colleagues note that two different research teams recently reported growing mouse mammary glands from a single stem cell. Their current findings, they suggest, add to this "hallmark advancement in the stem-cell research field."
The identification of single cells capable of generating an entire organ, they note, "has important implications for tissue repair and regrowth" and for finding cells involved in the earliest stages of prostate cancer.
Gao's team isolated cells from adult mouse prostate glands and cultured them in the laboratory. Cells that appeared capable of generating new organs carried a unique array of chemical markers on their surface.
To prove that the cells really could grow into new organs, the researchers placed single cells in a gel along with rat stromal cells as building blocks. When the gels were placed inside the kidneys of immune-deficient mice, they grew into functional prostate tissue.
In humans, the researchers found adult prostate stem cells carrying the same CD117 marker seen in the mouse stem cells.
"CD117 prostate stem cells can generate functional, secretion-producing prostates when transplanted," Gao and colleagues report.
The findings were published in the Oct. 22 online issue of the journal Nature.