Cancer metastasis - the spread of disease from the original site to a distant organ - remains a major challenge in treating cancer and a main cause of morbidity and mortality. A widely accepted explanation for this process - called "the seed and soil" hypothesis - recognizes the need for the cancer cell or "seed" to travel to a hospitable environment - the "soil.” To understand metastasis, many investigators have focused on the cancer cell- or seed. Yves DeClerck, MD, a pediatrician-scientist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and co-leader of the Tumor Microenvironment Program at the USC-Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, has studied this topic for his entire career from a slightly different perspective, concentrating on the "soil" or tumor microenvironment. Because of his recognition as a leader in this area, Dr. DeClerck was recently awarded $2.2 million from the National Cancer Institute, to investigate the microenvironment from a relatively new context. The study will focus on a newly identified type of messenger -- extracellular vesicles released by cancer cells into their environment. These vesicles, called exosomes, are small sacs shed by tumor cells that can contain protein, DNA, RNA and/or lipids. Exosomes are taken in by other cells and can modify the behavior of the receiving cell. According to Dr. DeClerck, healthy cells are typically inhospitable to cancer cells.
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