Objective: To analyse telomerase activity in disseminated prostate cancer cells isolated from bone marrow aspirates taken from men with localized prostate cancer before radical prostatectomy (RP).
Patients and methods: Disseminated epithelial prostate cancer cells were isolated from bone marrow aspirates from 69 men with localized prostate cancer before RP, by magnetic column-chromatography enrichment, followed by isolation of fluorescently labelled epithelial cells by micropipetting. We used pools of 10 non-epithelial bone marrow cells after tumour cell enrichment as control samples. These pure cell pools were tested for the presence of telomerase activity.
Results: In all, 49 of the patient samples contained disseminated prostate cancer cells. Homogeneous pools of 10 cells were obtained from 35 of these; 49% of the 35 specimens showed telomerase activity, whereas all five control samples did not. Telomerase activity in the 35 samples was not significantly associated with Gleason score, preoperative prostate-specific antigen level, tumour stage, or surgical margin status. Follow-up is continuing to assess an association with disease recurrence.
Conclusion: This work shows the feasibility of isolating disseminated cancer cells for analysing individual or pooled cells. Compared to tissue staining, where telomerase is detected in 80-90% of samples, we found lower rates of telomerase activity in the disseminated tumour cells (49%). Telomerase-negative cells might provide information about cell dormancy, as telomerase is a marker of cell proliferation in immortal and cancer cells. Telomerase-positive cells might predict early disease recurrence, but a longer follow-up is needed to test this possibility.