A new TCD-led research study by BREAST-PREDICT researchers, Professor Lorraine O’ Driscoll and 2nd year PhD student, Michelle Lowry, in collaboration with PhD student Keith O’Brien, was recently published in Oncotarget. The aim of this study was to better understand the role of extracellular vesicles (EVs) in triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) and see how this information could be used in the interest of patients.
In cancer, EVs are small vesicles containing protein and nucleic acids released by tumours into biological fluid such as blood, where the TCD group have shown that they can transfer their contents to new cells and so contribute to tumour progression, cancer metastasis and spreading of drug resistance. Interestingly, the contents of EVs can be very similar to the cells that they come from and so they may represent important tools as cancer biomarkers. Additionally, the potential use of EVs to use as novel delivery vehicles for cancer therapeutics is also being explored, further highlighting the important role these vesicles may play in cancer research.
The BREAST-PREDICT researchers in TCD identified a group of microRNAs(short sequences of genetic information that are important for controlling gene expression)whose levels were substantially reduced in cells and EVs from a very aggressive TNBC cell line compared to a more docile counterpart. Notably, it was found that the microRNA profile of EVs were very similar to their cells of origin – supplying further evidence for the benefit of EVs as breast cancer biomarkers. In keeping with this, the authors also found that the levels of miR-134, the most significantly down-regulated microRNA in the aggressive TNBC cells and their EVs, was also reduced in tumour samples from breast cancer patients when compared to normal breast tissue. Further studies identified that the delivery of miR-134 to TNBC-derived cells reduced the aggressiveness of the cancer cells.
While further research is required, this novel study supports a potential role for EVs and also their miR-134 content as a potential biomarker and novel treatment approach for TNBC. It gives hope that assessing EV quantities and their contents, taken from small blood samples donated by patients, can contribute to better ways of diagnosing breast cancer and may also help develop new ways for its treatment.
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