Cellular messengers improve cancer therapy

Nano-sized membrane bubbles known as extracellular vesicles activate the immune system in mice and seem to render their tumours sensitive to a type of immunotherapy drug called a checkpoint inhibitor. This is according to a new study published in Cancer Immunology Research by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

Treatments for various forms of cancer have improved considerably over recent years thanks to a type of drug called a checkpoint inhibitor, which helps the immune system’s T cells to attack the cancer cells.

However, even though some patients respond extremely well to treatment, a large proportion only see temporary improvement, if any. Scientists are devoting considerable energy to understanding why this is so and to combining checkpoint inhibitors with other therapies in order to increase the cancer survival rate.

A new cancer therapy

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet how show that a form of round nanoparticles called exosomes or extracellular vesicles are a promising path to follow.

“Is seems that the vesicles make the tumour immunologically active so that the checkpoint therapy can gain purchase and start to work,” says the study’s last author Susanne Gabrielsson, professor at the Department of Medicine (Solna), Karolinska Institutet. “These results give support to the further development of extracellular vesicles as a new cancer therapy.”

Extracellular vesicles are sometimes referred to as the body’s messengers. They are membrane-bound nano-scale bubbles that cells can send to each other to exchange information. Vesicles from tumour cells, for instance, can switch off the immune system so that the cancer can spread, while vesicles from immune cells can activate an immune response.

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