The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded Héctor Peinado, head of the Microenvironment and Metastasis Group at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), a grant to study neurofibromatosis. His project is among the five selected in the latest round of funding in the DoD programme dedicated to this disease and the only one being conducted outside the United States.

The DoD, through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), asserts that the project headed by Peinado “will provide the first data” on the role of exosomes in the progression and malignancy of neurofibromas and that “this may lead to new treatments” for affected patients. The researcher stressed that this was “a new approach”, a line of study on this pathology that is different from previous approaches.

Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a rare illness that results in the onset of tumours that, on occasion, become malignant and metastasise, compromising the survival of the patient. Peinado and his team believe that exosomes play an important role in this malignant progression. These vesicles secreted by tumours interact with the microenvironment and appear to “send signals” that encourage the onset of metastasis.

“Studying NF1 metastatic tumours, we have found a marker (that travels in these exosomes) that is involved in agniogenesis”, explains Peinado. The hypothesis is that blocking this molecule could stop the progression of the illness by preventing the metastasis, an approach supported by the DoD.

For now, “we have established the relationship between this marker and the progression of the illness and we have validated it as a new therapeutic target in preclinical models”, says the researcher. The U.S. grant will make it possible to continue this line of work that focuses on the most lethal process: metastasis.Peinado’s group has also received a grant from the Association of People Affected by Neurofibromatosis, thanks to which they are conducting a screening process to detect new markers linked to the disease. In regard to the exosomes, the Worldwide Cancer Research (formerly AIRC) has awarded another grant worth 200,000 pounds to study the relationship between obesity, cancer and metastasis mediated by these vesicles, once it has been established that obese people have more circulating exosomes and that the microenvironment in these people seems to generate greater susceptibility to malignancy.

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