London: In a breakthrough, scientists have discovered a revolutionary new technique of slowing down the growth of prostate cancer in men.
For the first time experiments have successfully targeted the activity of non-cancerous cells which encourage the tumour to grow.
By changing the way these `fibroblast` cells behave, scientists were able to slow down the growth of prostate cancer in mice.
The fibroblasts are situated next to cancer cells and, although not cancerous themselves, encourage the cancer to grow.
Experts say it could form the basis of `a revolution` in the treatment of the disease.
They believe the technique has great potential in humans because some of the cells used were taken from cancer patients.
"This is an extremely exciting development that has the potential to form the basis of a revolution in prostate cancer treatments over time if replicated in humans," said lead researcher Dr Axel Thomson, from the Medical Research Council unit in Edinburgh.
"By targeting the fibroblasts that control the growth of the cancer these new treatments could be both more effective and likely to lead to significantly fewer side effects," Thomson said.
The research team found that turning on key genes inside `fibroblast` cells in prostate tumours dramatically reduced the size of the tumours when grown in mice.
"Our previous research identified a number of `puppet-master genes` - so called because they enable fibroblast cells to control the growth of other cells during the formation of the prostate in the embryo," Thomson said.
"In this follow-up study we found that activating these genes in fibroblasts in tumours enabled us to significantly reduce the growth of prostate cancer in mice," Thomson added.
Thomson said it was possible synthetic proteins could be used, possibly by infusion into the bloodstream, that would target the fibroblasts in tumour cells to slow down or even halt their activity.
"This is an extremely encouraging development which could have positive and far reaching consequences for prostate cancer treatments in years to come," Dr Rachel Macdonald, Research Manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said.
"To date, most prostate cancer research has focused on exploring the cancerous cells within the tumour," Macdonald said.
"By investigating the behaviour of the non-cancerous cells which control tumour development the team has been able to make this groundbreaking discovery," Macdonald added.
The findings were published in the science journal Disease Models and Mechanisms.