Northwestern Medicine scientists have demonstrated that tiny vesicles (exosomes) released from non-metastatic melanoma cells trigger an immune response that prevents the cancer from spreading throughout the body. Michael Plebanek, a doctoral student in Feinberg’s Driskill Graduate Program in Life Sciences (DGP) at Northwestern Medicine, is the first author of the study, published on November 6, 2017 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Pre-Metastatic Cancer Exosomes Induce Immune Surveillance by Patrolling Monocytes at the Metastatic Niche.” Exosomes are nano-sized delivery vehicles that are released by cells into the bloodstream. In recent years, significant research has focused on the role of exosomes released by cancer cells in promoting the spread of cancer. This study, however, is the first to demonstrate that exosomes can also suppress metastasis, depending on the state of the cancer cell. “Mike’s paper is important because it provides data on the mechanisms by which these natural nanovesicles enhance the ability of the immune system to clear tumor cells and prevent cancer from spreading,” said C. Shad Thaxton, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Urology and a co-author of the Nature Communications paper. Dr. Thaxton is also Plebanek’s advisor and a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “Because the spread of cancer cells throughout the body is devastating for cancer patients, developing a deeper understanding of the process is critically important and adds to the knowledge that may result in new treatments.” Previously, it had been established that exosomes released from highly metastatic tumor cells support the spread of cancer by traveling to other organs in the body, where the exosomes nurture an environment for incoming cancer cells.
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