Colon cancer and cancer affecting the last few inches of the colon are collectively named colorectal cancer. In its early stages no symptoms may exist, creating a strong emphasis on regular patient screening.  With interest increasing about the use of exosomal miRNA as a biomarker for cancer, Ogata-Kawata and colleagues decided to carry out research on the possible link between pathological changes witnessed in patients affected by colorectal cancer and their specific exosomal miRNA levels [1].

Results showed elevated levels of 7 exosomal miRNAs (let-7a, miR-1229, miR-1246, miR-150, miR-21, miR-223, and miR-23a) in colorectal cancer patients, even at an early stage compared to healthy samples. Removal of abnormal tissue surgically resulted in a significant decrease in these miRNA levels. These results suggest that there is a relationship between the pathological changes seen in colorectal sufferers and an increase in these specific miRNA levels, showing their potential as biomarkers.

Not only are exosomes deemed useful as biomarkers for colon cancer, but they have also been considered in therapeutics. Curcumin is a yellow powder usually associated with the curry spice, Turmeric, and has been involved in cancer research over the years due to its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-microbial properties. Curcumin displayed anti-inflammatory properties in previous trials as it interacts with many molecule targets which are involved in inflammation, including the beta-catenin and NF-κB signaling pathways [2].

curcumin resized 600

Previous clinical trials which have administrated Curcumin orally as a treatment for colon cancer have encountered issues however as it has limited bioavailability, even at large doses of 8-12 grams per day, meaning not enough of the spice is reaching the tumors. Using exosomes as vehicles to deliver Curcumin to tumors has been shown to enhance its anti-inflammatory properties in the colon and enhance bioavailability, stability and solubility [3]. A clinical trial in phase I is therefore currently being undertaken by the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, in association with the University of Louisville, to investigate the ability of using plant exosomes to deliver Curcumin to normal and malignant colon tissue [4].

During the trial, which is estimated to finish in December 2015, the effect of exosomally delivering the Curcumin to normal and malignant colon cells will be characterized by monitoring immune modulation, cellular metabolism, and their phospholipid profile.

The importance of miRNA as exosomal diagnostic biomarkers for the detection of colorectal cancer as well as the use of exosomes in the delivery of medicine to increase bioavailability in treatment has become increasingly clear.


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[1] Ogata-Kawata, H. et al. Circulating Exosomal microRNAs as Biomarkers of Colon Cancer. (2014). PLos ONE. 9:e92921. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0092921.

[2] Jurenka, J. S. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. (2009). Altern Med Rev. 14: 141-53.

[3] Sun, D. et al. A novel nanoparticle drug delivery system: the anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin is enhanced when encapsulated in exosomes. (2010). Mol Ther. 18: 1606-14.


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