New Research at NUI Galway Uses Stem Cells to Target Tumours

Dr Róisín Dwyer, Lambe Institute for Translational Research, NUI Galway.
Feb 07 2018 Posted: 16:05 GMT

A research study led by scientists from the Lambe Institute for Translational Research at NUI Galway, has identified a novel approach that could potentially be used to treat breast cancer when it has spread to other organs, using tiny vesicles released by adult stem cells. The study was published in the internationally renowned cancer journal, Oncogene, and involved a multidisciplinary partnership between colleagues at NUI Galway, and collaborators in UCD.

There have been great advances in detection and treatment of breast cancer, but patients in whom the disease has spread to other organs (metastasised) still have a poor outcome. New treatments for advanced disease are urgently required.

A type of stem cell, called an adult Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC) has a remarkable ‘tumour-homing’ ability, being able to home specifically to the site of tumours and metastases, and raising their potential as delivery vehicles to bring drugs directly to cancer sites, particularly metastatic sites.

In this study, Dr Róisín Dwyer’s research group, based in the Lambe Institute for Translational Research at NUI Galway, isolated vesicles secreted by MSCs. All cells release tiny vesicles containing genetic information, that can then be taken up by other cells, communicating messages between cells. The researchers then engineered these vesicles to contain a tumour suppressing message, and these were shown to reduce breast cancer growth in models of the disease. This exciting data suggests that MSC-secreted vesicles may home to sites of disease and could represent a novel, safe and effective way to treat breast cancer when it has spread to other organs.

Lead author of the study, Dr Róisín Dwyer from NUI Galway, said: “When cancer has spread it is difficult to deliver therapy to many sites of disease while protecting healthy tissue. However, adult Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) have the natural ability to home to the sites of tumours. We engineered MSCs to express high levels of a tumour supressing microRNA (a short RNA sequence), and we used the MSCs as vehicles to deliver it to the tumour site. The MSCs were found to release the microRNA in tiny vesicles. We then isolated the vesicles to determine if they could be used to treat the cancer, without the cells. This could also reduce potential side effects.”

The research study was primarily funded by the Irish Cancer Society BREAST-PREDICT collaborative cancer research centre.

To read the full study in Oncogene, visit:


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