The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, CPRIT, awarded Texas A&M AgriLife’s Jean-Phillippe Pellois, Ph.D., with a $200,000 grant for his project, “Mechanisms of Exosomal Cell Entry and Signaling in Cancer.”
Pellois, professor and associate department head for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics and researcher with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, is taking a deeper look into cell-to-cell communication and its role in fighting cancer.
Cells communicate with one another by secreting small vesicles called exosomes, Pellois explained. As the vesicles develop and move about, they bring with them some of the components from the previous cell, giving way to an opportunity to transfer information or communicate.
“The idea that cells communicate with one another through chemicals has been known for a long time,” Pellois said. “But some of those molecules that are supposed to be inside cells, nobody thought they could go from one cell to another, because membranes act as barriers that block that transfer. So now this new cell-to-cell communication has been detected, and it is known to play an important role in cancer.”
There are many functions among this cell to cell communication, he explained. It’s been shown that cancer cells can secrete some of those little vesicles, and those vesicles affect their surroundings based on the signaling that the molecules transferred will have. These functions can also affect how the cells respond to drugs and affect whether cells become metastatic and start migrating to different places.
With this grant, Pellois is taking a look at the specifics of how that transfer of signaling molecules functions. He will look at the mechanisms used in an effort to to control the transfer of information and potentially block signaling that is bad for healthy cells.
“We can maybe manipulate and increase that signaling if it is beneficial,” he said. “But the idea is to understand how those vesicles transfer material from one cell to the next, specifically transfer that involves the sharing of ribonucleic acid, RNA.”
Following the understanding of the transfer of information, Pellois wants to explore this idea for diagnosis because those vesicles are also secreted in the bloodstream.
“So if cancer cells secrete vesicles that are unique and different from healthy cells, and we can figure out how different they are, we can then try to detect them and see whether they are present in the blood of the patient,” he said. “And we can use that to see if somebody has a certain type of cancer or cancer at a different stage of progression.”
CPRIT is helping fund the advancement in cancer research throughout the state of Texas by encouraging innovation and product development and enhancing access to evidence-based prevention programs throughout the state. CPRIT awarded more than $6 million in grants to five different Texas A&M researchers.
“It is a high-risk, high-reward grant,” Pellois said. “This idea is really less established and on the edge of what is going on, making it riskier. So this is really the sort of grant you get to test and develop a brand new experimental idea.”