The June 11, 2015, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine featured an article titled “Expanding on Exosomes and Ectosomes in Cancer” in the journal’s section on Clinical Applications of Basic Research. The article was authored by Lorraine O’Driscoll, Ph.D., Director of Research and Associate Professor of Pharmacology, School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. Dr. O’Driscoll began by noting that up until recently exosomes were considered to have no biological significance. Now, however, these nanosized vesicles are believed to be mini-maps of their cells of origin, with physiological and pathologic relevance. In cancer, she said, exosomes have been implicated in the transfer of “undesirable” information from one cell to another, with consequences that include stimulating the proliferation, motility, and invasive properties of the recipient cell, transferring drug resistance, inducing the formation of endothelial tubules (e.g., in angiogenesis), and attracting cancer cells to secondary sites within living organisms. Although our understanding of exosomes remains “rudimentary,” Dr. O’Driscoll said that four recent studies (all published in 2014) lend strong support to the concept that exosomes derived from cancer cells are dynamic mini-factories that actively contribute to the progression of disease. These studies have focused on the microRNA (miRNA) content of exosomes, she said. In one study, conducted by Dr. Sonia Melo and colleagues, the researchers worked with exosomes from breast-cancer cell lines and exosomes from non-tumorigenic breast-cell lines (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25446899?dopt=Abstract).
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