discoveries magazine

Reprograming Prostate Cancer Tumor Cells

An illustration showing how Cedars-Sinai researchers have discovered a new way to reprogram both prostate cancer cells and the tissues surrounding prostate tumors.

Cancer cells are skilled at evading the body's immune system. This is especially true of prostate cancer, the second most common cancer—and a leading cause of death—in men. Cedars-Sinai investigators have discovered a way to transform tissues surrounding prostate tumors to alert the body’s immune cells to the cancer and help fight it.

Using a technique called epigenetic reprogramming, scientists altered tumors and their microenvironments in mouse models. Epigenetics relates to how genes are switched on and off to produce proteins for fulfilling different functions. Disruptions to the process can form cancerous cells.

The team focused on inhibiting a protein that shields cancer from attack by immune cells. If confirmed in clinical trials, the findings could lead to improved immunotherapies for prostate cancer. Currently, up to 85% of patients receiving immunotherapy drugs fail to respond to them.

“Our goal is to fire up the immune system of prostate cancer patients and make the cancer vulnerable,” says Leigh Ellis, PhD, scientific director of the Center for Urologic Research Excellence.