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The Investigator : Spring Summer 2012
A respected cancer journal has published new Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer findings on how cancer cells communicate to source oxygen, which could lead to a blood test for aggressive cancers. Flinders University Professor of Medicine Jonathan Gleadle, Dr Michael Michael from the FMC Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and student Hamish King have focussed their research on exosomes – small cellular ‘off-shoots’ that send messages to other cells. Their findings were published in the BMC Cancer Journal in September. “We believe exosomes play important roles in helping cancer cells to communicate with surrounding tissue and help them to spread,” Professor Gleadle said. “Therefore, understanding the stimuli which promote exosome release by tumour cells is important in understanding tumour development.” The team investigated how starving breast cancer cells of oxygen (also called hypoxia) impacted the cell’s exosome release. “As a tumour grows, it rapidly outgrows its blood supply, leaving portions of the tumour with regions where the oxygen concentration is significantly lower than in healthy tissues,” Professor Gleadle said. “Hypoxic tumour cells are usually resistant to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and often result in the worst patient outcomes, although the reasons behind this remain unclear.” Looking at three different breast cancer cell lines, the team found that the more the cancer cell was starved of oxygen, the more exosomes it released. “This may help the cancer cell to promote its own survival and invasion,” Professor Gleadle said. The research has important implications for how tumour cells might signal to surrounding tissue in order to spread, and could mean that tumours spread more when they are starved of oxygen because of the increase of these invasive exosome signals. The team also found that the exosomes coming from oxygen-starved cancer cells contained more of a particular cancer-causing microRNA, called miR-210, an important discovery which could one day lead to a blood test that detects rapidly growing tumours. This research has been enabled from Flinders Medical Centre Foundation funding. Recent funds raised by Blokes for Breast Cancer will allow the team to extend their investigation into how tumours communicate with their environment. l Investigator spring/summer 2012 Detecting the spread of aggressive cancers Researchers are uncovering whether changes in blood platelets could provide new treatment targets for the 21,000 Australians living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). MS is an inflammatory neurodegenerative disease characterised by recurring episodes, which lead to scarring in the central nervous system and the disruption of nerve impulses throughout the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. This can result in impairment of motor, sensory and cognitive functions including problems with weakness, coordination, motor function, and cognitive difficulties. While some patients with MS return to full function after an episode, the progressive form of the disease is characterised by a steady worsening of symptoms without any remissions. Head of Neurology at Flinders Medical Centre, Dr Mark Slee, is seeking to clarify whether platelets, which are best known for their role in blood clotting, will help further the understanding Multiple Sclerosis. “Research has shown that platelets may have a role in communicating with the immune cells that go from the circulation into the nervous system to cause inflammation,” Dr Slee said. “We aim to study the role of platelets in persons with multiple sclerosis at times of relapse and again in remission. “We want to know if previously identified changes in platelet function in MS are a secondary consequence of the disease or whether they may represent a real target to reduce relapses or progression of disability.” Dr Slee said the research was made possible because Flinders Medical Centre is home to the only dedicated MS service in the state, which opened its doors in 2006. “Flinders research into MS is strong because our clinical service works seamlessly with our research, and we have a large cohort of patients who are motivated to contribute to research,” Dr Slee said. l Dr Mark Slee Professor of Medicine Jonathan Gleadle and Dr Michael Michael New blood target for Multiple Sclerosis
Autumn Winter 2012
Autumn Winter 2013