A small molecule controls lung cancer

Researchers at TU Darmstadt decode mechanisms behind intercellular communication in tumours


In order for a tumour to grow, its cells need to communicate with one another. Disrupting this communication can help to fight the tumour. The research group headed by Dr. Meike Saul at Technical University of Darmstadt has discovered a mechanism that plays a key role in intercellular communication in tumours. This discovery could act as the basis for the development of innovative therapies in the fight against lung cancer. The results of the study were recently published in the internationally renowned “Journal of Extracellular Vesicles”.

Dr. Meike Saul (center) with her research assistants Eva Pröstler (left) and Dr. Julia Donzelli.

All cells in a multicellular organism must be precisely coordinated in order for the organism to function correctly. This applies both to healthy tissue and also tumours. Communication between the cells is extremely important and is achieved via direct cellular contact or using messenger substances. Recent studies have also shown that cells emit extracellular vesicles – so-called exosomes with a size of 50 to 200 nanometres – into the surrounding environment that play a key role in intercellular communication.

In cellular communication, microRNA (miRNA) in exosomes plays a particularly important role. MicroRNAs are small ribonucleic acid molecules that play a key role in the regulation of gene expression and cellular protein synthesis.

The research group headed by Dr. Meike Saul in the Department of Biology at the Technical University of Darmstadt is investigating the physiological functions of these exosomal miRNA and recently had great success in their research into lung cancer. Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death around the world. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung carcinoma and accounts for about 80 percent of all cases.

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