Pharma & drug development

How do cancer cells communicate and can it help us catch them?

Researchers have uncovered that cancer cells communicate over much greater distances than previously expected, opening up more possibilities for detection. Abi Millar spoke to the researchers to get the inside track on how our knowledge about the way cancer cells communicate is changing.

Earlier this year, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) researchers were studying melanoma cancer cells when they made a surprising discovery. Based on the quantities of exosomes present in patients’ blood, cancer cells may be able to communicate with each other over much longer distances than originally thought.

“Our discovery was purely curiosity driven, as we had studied exosomes produced by cultured melanoma cancer cells,” says Professor Hubert Girault, who heads up the Laboratory of Physical and Analytical Electrochemistry at EPFL Valais Wallis. “The surprise was the amount of melanoma markers in the blood, considering that melanoma tumours are in the dermis and not directly in contact with the blood.”

Yingdi Zhu, an EPFL doctoral assistant, had been using cell culture and mass spectrometry to isolate melanoma cancer cell exosomes. Tiny particles, around 50-100 nanometers across, exosomes are naturally released from the cell, along with a cargo of proteins, mRNA and other molecular constituents.

Although released by healthy cells too, they are emitted by cancer cells in much larger quantities, and are thought to facilitate cell-to-cell communication within a tumour.

Read the rest of this article in the August 2019 edition of Pharma Technology Focus

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