Mitochondrial dysfunction is the root cause of hundreds of diseases, including epilepsy, diabetes and stroke. Because of this link, mitochondrial research has a crucial role in developing treatments for mitochondrial disease and many other conditions. In a recent WCMR Seminar, we heard from PhD student Hannah Kendall about her research project that involves investigating the role of mitochondria in prostate cancer and developing models to test new treatment strategies. Here Hannah tells us more.
Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the UK with 1 in 8 individuals being diagnosed during their lifetime. Patients initially respond well to hormonal treatment; however, the vast majority of individuals go on to develop castrate resistant prostate cancer and fail to respond to further hormonal therapy. Due to this, there is a real need to develop new strategies to target the disease.
One way we can achieve this is by researching a key part of the cell called the mitochondria. Mitochondria are often deemed the powerhouse of the cell as they generate all the energy a cell needs to perform its biochemical reactions. In cancer, this process becomes dysregulated, therefore, mitochondria can no longer function correctly. Mitochondria contain their own DNA (mtDNA), and mutations within mtDNA have been associated with prostate cancer.
In order to study dysfunctional mtDNA, stem cells can be used to generate a cybrid cell model. Within this model, healthy mtDNA from the stem cells are replaced with faulty mtDNA. The stem cells (now with faulty mtDNA) can be manipulated to become prostate cancer cells, and in turn, can be used to generate prostate cancer organoids. Prostate cancer organoids are 3D structures grown in the laboratory that mimic the appearance and function of prostate cancer enabling us to study the disease first hand. From here, we are able to test the organoids against a number of different drugs. We can also insert specific mutations into the stem cells prior to organoid formation, therefore there is scope to do this in a patient specific fashion, opening the door to pre-clinical drug testing.
Hannah’s PhD project is funded by The Barbour Foundation which was set up to support charities and good causes primarily in the North East of England and support research into the causes of chronic illness.