New ways for cancer treatment
Cancer cells can communicate over longer distances within the body, according to École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers. This breakthrough discovery opens up new possibilities for the use of cancer immunotherapy techniques and for new approaches to vaccine design and development.
Cancer cells use exosomes to communicate with each other and send information through the bloodstream, explain the researchers. "It was a huge surprise, we didn't expect to find so many melanoma cancer cell markers in blood exosomes", says Hubert Girault, who heads up the Laboratory of Physical and Analytical Electrochemistry at EPFL Valais Wallis. Professor Girault and his team made the discovery almost by accident. Their findings have been published in the journal Chem.
All biological cells excrete exosomes, microscopic spheres or vesicles that are less than 100 nanometers in size and contain a wealth of information in the form of nucleic acids, proteins and markers. Exosomes perform cell-to-cell signaling, conveying information between cells. Researchers used cell culture and mass spectrometry to isolate melanoma cancer cell exosomes. They were able to identify cancer cell markers in exosomes for each stage of melanoma growth.
When analyzing the blood exosomes of melanoma patients, the researchers were surprised to discover large quantities of cancer cell markers. The blood collects and transports all the exosomes that the body generates. While healthy cells usually produce exosomes in small quantities, cancer cells produce many more.
For Professor Girault, the discovery of large quantities of cancer cell markers in blood exosomes raises numerous questions about signaling between cancer cells, which until now were not thought to communicate over longer distances within the body.
Indicating the stage of a tumor
This intercellular communication is thought to facilitate the spread of cancer cells by preparing tissue for metastasis. Professor Girault's team also found that the markers offer an indication of how developed the tumor is.
Being able to identify these markers means that a simple blood test, rather than a biopsy, could provide information about the presence of a tumor and its stage and perhaps even be used to predict therapeutic responses. This would help to speed up the diagnostic process.
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