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Release: June 24, 1999

UI researchers develop new model for studying prostate cancer

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- To better understand prostate cancer and potentially find better ways to combat the condition, University of Iowa Health Care researchers have developed a new study model.

The new, improved approach relies on a gelatin sponge to deliver and retrieve tumor cells from rats, the traditional study models for prostate cancer. The UI strategy makes it easier to investigate the invasive and metastatic abilities of the different cancer cells.

"This unique rat model system allows us to probe the role of individual components of tumor populations," said Mary J.C. Hendrix, Ph.D., UI professor and head of anatomy and cell biology. "We can study how the tumors modify and regulate the host immune environment to grow and spread."

Using their new model, UI researchers already have shown that prostate cells with weak immunological responses are associated with the primary tumor formation, while prostate cells with strong immunological responses are not.

The UI model works like this: Researchers implant four gelatin sponges into the rat's back. Several days later, the researchers inject tumor cells into two of the implanted sponges and sterile solution into the two other sponges. At designated times, the researchers remove the sponges and analyze the cells that "attacked" the prostate tumor cells.

Although using sponges to study prostate cancer is new, the practice is not. Researchers have relied on these sponge models to successfully study the immune response to breast cancer tumors.

"It is widely accepted that developing tumors recruit and infiltrate the host immune cells, but the immune response varies in aggressive versus non-aggressive prostatic tumors," explained Hendrix, who is also the associate director of basic research and deputy director of the UI Cancer Center.

The UI prostate cancer model may provide important clues into the diverse immune responses, thereby leading to better therapeutic strategies.

"The model devised by Dr. Hendrix and colleagues is an exciting new approach to understanding the growth and development of prostate cancer," said Richard Williams, M.D., UI professor and head of urology. "This model will provide a unique template for studying how the host immunologic defenses interact with prostate cancer cells and allow early testing of a variety of innovative treatment strategies based on the new knowledge gained by its use."