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Institute of Oncology Research (IOR),

affiliated to USI,

run by an


foundation with the same name


New discovery at the IOR on mechanisms leading to the spread of metastases

Exosomes (stained in red) associated with prostatic cells (nuclei in blue) and visualized by confocal microscopy. (Image: IOR)
Exosomes (stained in red) associated with prostatic cells (nuclei in blue) and visualized by confocal microscopy. (Image: IOR)

Institutional Communication Service

Prostate cancer research is making further progress with a recent discovery of the Prostate Cancer Biology laboratory at the Institute of Oncology Research (IOR, affiliated to the Università della Svizzera italiana). A study led by Dr Giuseppina Carbone has revealed that micro-RNA fragments, released into the body by prostate cancer cells through microscopic vesicles called exosomes, lead to the formation of metastases. The study, which involves clinical centres in Ticino (IOSI, Cardiocentro Ticino) and internationally (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cape Town, and Portuguese Oncology Institute, Porto), is published in Communications Biology, part of the portfolio of Nature scientific journals.

Tumour cells have their own system for sending signals to the most diverse areas of the body, facilitating their own survival and, above all, promoting the formation of metastases: the sending of microscopic vesicles called exosomes. In the case of prostate cancer, in particular, it seems that the latter may play an absolutely important role in tumour progression. As Dr Carbone explains, "exosomes are secreted by all kinds of cells and are found in all kinds of body fluids, from blood to saliva, and their purpose is to ensure communication between cells. They are, therefore, messengers that circulate normally. But the quantity and quality of the content of the different exosomes is what makes the difference, because those secreted by prostate cancer cells have characteristics that make them unique. In previous studies we have shown that prostate tumours with high levels of RNA fragments called microRNAs (miR-424) are associated with increased malignancy. The next step in our study was to show that these exosomes have the ability to intervene in other cells, making them less differentiated, more stem-like and thus more likely to form metastases. Since exosomes are found in every fluid in the body, it is conceivable that in the not-too-distant future they will be isolated by a simple blood sample in order to monitor tumour progression and diagnose clinical relapse".

The diagnostic aspect is only one of the possible implications of what was discovered in Bellinzona. There is also a therapeutic aspect, which has great potential. Dr Carbone continues: "There are already experimental molecules that neutralise microRNAs, and the first data tell us that they are effective and have no obvious toxicity. We need to move forward and understand how to block the release and circulation of microRNAs in exosomes, and develop methods that can be applied in humans".


The full scientific article is available online at 


[Translated from the abridged version of the orginal article published by Ticino Scienza. See Quicklink for the full text, in Italian.]