Information from brain tumour sacs may help to guide treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Tiny membrane-covered sacs which are released from brain tumour cells may provide information which could be used to guide treatment, US scientists have said.

Cells from an aggressive form of brain tumour called glioblastoma release tiny sacs called exosomes.

Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) set out to analyse the contents of these exosomes which they isolated from blood samples taken from patients with glioblastoma.


They found that the sacs contained genetic material called RNA, which tells a cell to make certain proteins. These may be involved in cell proliferation and movement, the growth of new blood vessels, and immune response.

Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Cell Biology, the researchers suggest that the RNA contained in the tiny sacs might be changing the environment around cancer cells, encouraging tumour growth.

Lead author Dr Johan Skog, from the MGH Neuroscience Centre, commented: "Glioblastomas release exosomes in sufficient quantities to pass the blood-brain barrier.

"We were able to isolate them, analyse the RNA transcripts and show how they might be used as biomarkers to guide targeted therapy and monitor treatment response."

The expert added: "Exosomes also may someday be used to deliver therapeutic molecules to the site of a tumour."

The researchers also revealed that, when glioblastoma exosomes were grown with normal cells, tumour RNA was able to move into the normal cells and start making proteins.

Dr Skog noted that the results may have broad implications for personalised medicine as the effects of some anti-cancer drugs are known to depend on a tumour's genetic profile.

He said: "Detecting mutational profiles through a non-invasive blood test could allow us to monitor how a tumour's genetic makeup changes in response to therapy, which may necessitate changes in treatment strategy."

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