Scientists have made a breakthrough in studying the origins of testicular cancer by grafting human tissue into mice. They have been able to study the development of the cells, which can cause testicular germ cell cancer (TGCC), the most common cancer among men aged 15 to 44.
It is already known that testicular cancer originates from the abnormal development of cells in foetuses. But how and why this happens has been impossible to explore before now.
In the latest study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, experts formulated a new method for investigating how human testes develop in baby boys before they are born. They took testicular tissue from donated foetuses and grafted it into mice, watching how the cells developed, as if inside a womb, over a six week period.
Previous studies have not been possible as the TGCC seen in men does not occur in laboratory animals. Testicular tissue also cannot be studied in a test tube because it does not survive and develop normally. But now experts should be able to determine which factors interfere with germ cell development and allow cancer to develop.
The team also hopes the mouse model could be used to investigate other health issues.
Professor Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh and supervisor of the study, said: "This vital work... will help us to investigate whether common environmental chemicals, that foetuses are exposed to in the womb, play a role in the development of testicular cancer."