Cells exchange messages with each other using microscopic spheres that travel all across the body. Could these tiny vesicles be used for detecting and monitoring cancer?
Detection of small tumours and the early stages of metastasis are significant medical challenges. Developing new methods to overcome these challenges is essential for early diagnosis and treatment.
One of the ways cells participate in the smooth functioning of the body is by producing nano-sized lipid spheres, called exosomes. Exosomes fill the role of messengers. They travel to remote locations via the bloodstream, carrying “molecular messages” to other cells. These messages then influence the activity of the target cells in a way that supports the body’s needs.
Recent findings show that this natural process can also be utilised by cancer to promote metastasis. Specifically, tumour cells secrete exosomes that prompt healthy cells at remote locations to prepare the tissue for tumour invasion.
Following these and other results, the team is building an “Exosome BioBank”, derived from blood samples of patients. With this data, the team is investigating the best way to intercept exosomes and use them for detecting cancer and metastasis.
The team has identified a specific population of blood-derived exosomes that provides real-time measures of whether patients that suffer from metastatic pancreatic cancer are responding to chemotherapy. The group has also developed new technologies that enable the analysis of exosomes in the blood of patients in less than four hours.