Hunter professor Hiroshi Matsui is part of a team of researchers who recently published a study in Nature Cell Biology, a leading publication of global science news, that touts the discovery of a new nanoparticle with promising implications for cancer research. This study represents the culmination of years of painstaking work by Professor Matsui, as well as specialists in the fields of nanotechnology and cancer research from Cornell and Memorial Sloan Kettering.
The scientists used a cutting-edge technique called asymmetric flow field-flow fractionation to sort nano-sized particles called exosomes. These exosomes are secretions that all cells issue, but in the case of cancer, the exosomes are self-targeting; they know where to go in the body, acting as vehicles for intercellular communication. Exosomes secreted by cancer cells contain DNA, RNA, fats, and proteins—essential indicators of the cells’ make-up. Studying the pathway of the exosomes—where they go and how they travel—can help us understand how cancer cells metastasize and, potentially, prevent them from wreaking havoc on the body. Using an instrument previously used to separate bacteria or viruses from blood, the scientists were able to separate three distinct exosome subtypes. In doing so, they discovered a new nanoparticle, which they named “exomeres.”
These exomeres differ from other exosomes in compelling ways: they’re smaller and structurally distinct, with the capacity to fuse with healthy cells, radically altering immune system function. Cancer, so the exosomes indicate, is a really smart disease. These secretion particles tell a vivid story of how the disease creates the ideal conditions for itself to thrive. But, with this new understanding comes the potential to perhaps outsmart even the wiliest cells.
These tiny exosomes—less than 50 nanometers in diameter—have become “a very hot subject in oncology lately,” says Professor Matsui. “Their small size provides a sweet spot for us nanotechnologists, and it makes our contribution very important for the future study of cancer.” He and his colleagues have a patent pending for the technology they used in their recent study, and plan to publish further regarding the implications of their research. “We expect that the role of each exosome will be revealed in the next publication, and understanding these mechanisms will allow researchers to halt cancer metastasis by impeding these pathways.”
Professor Matsui’s postdoc students at Hunter were crucial to the study’s success, using expert skill in investigating the tiny particles for structural and mechanical properties, which could be a key factor for cancer metastasis and progression. Professor Matsui stressed the importance of collaboration by many scientists in the success of this groundbreaking research: “The integration of biology and nanotechnology will be critical for future medicine, and multidisciplinary research teams will win the game.”