Cellular Messenger Particles Could Help Treat Cancer


Leading specialists in nanotechnology and cancer research have uncovered a new piece of the cancer metastasis puzzle – one that could lead to new therapies to impede how the disease spreads.

In a groundbreaking paper published in Nature Cell Biology, a team of scientists — including Professor Hiroshi Matsui (Hunter College and Advanced Science Research Center at The Graduate Center) — employed a technique called asymmetric flow field-flow (AF4) to isolate and identify two types of cellular “messenger” particles called exosomes, and a new nanoparticle they named “exomeres.” The latter measures a mere 50 nanometers in diameter; by comparison, the smallest exosome the team discovered measures 60 to 80 nanometers in diameter. Both exosomes and exomeres could help researchers better understand how cancer cells communicate as well as the pathways they forge within the body to facilitate metastasis.

Exosomes and exomeres both contain information like DNA and RNA that they use to promote new tumor growth. However, the researchers discovered some differences: Cancer cells tend to secrete more of both, and exomeres are more rigid, making them increasingly likely to be taken up by organs.

The researchers also noted that the three nanoparticles – the two types of exosomes and the exomeres – typically head for different parts of the body, suggesting that each plays a specialized role in metastasis. For example, exomeres often target the liver, meaning they might affect the metabolism of anti-cancer drugs.

Some of these observations could pave the way for new treatments. One approach, Matsui explained, would be to re-engineer the exosomes and exomeres to deliver drugs directly to cancer cells. “These particles target specific organs,” Matsui said, “so if we are clever enough we can take them from the patient’s body, insert anti-cancer drugs, and put them back into the patient’s body. They will then take the drugs to specific organs without triggering an immune response.”

Matsui and the rest of the Hunter team contributed their chemistry and engineering expertise to this work by studying the structural and mechanical properties of each “messenger.” The team – which includes postdoctoral student Kristina Fabijanic, research associate Sham Rampersaud, and graduate student Justin Fang – will seek a patent on the technology they developed for the study.

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Explore This Work
“Identification of distinct nanoparticles and subsets of extracellular vesicles by asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation”

Work By
Hiroshi Matsui (Professor, Bionanotechnology) | Profile 1 | Profile 2

Colleges and Schools
Hunter College The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
“Hunter Professor’s Research Yields New Nanoparticle Discovery” (CUNY News)

Related Terms

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