Can ingesting cow milk-derived vesicles improve cancer treatment outcomes?

Ground-breaking research from scientists at La Trobe University may lead to the development of new options for cancer treatments, particularly for advanced cancer patients who have undergone surgery to remove the primary tumor.

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are tiny vesicles released by cells that contain important proteins, nucleic acids and lipids. EVs can facilitate communication between cells and play an important role in cancer development and progression.

For years, there has been speculation that if EVs present in food like cow’s milk could be ingested by a cancer patient, then the EVs could deliver important “cargo” to the body’s organs and regulate cancer progression. Until now this remained unproven.

Research published in Nature Communications, from Professor Suresh Mathivanan’s team at the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS), shows it is indeed possible.

“We discovered that cow milk-derived EVs were able to withstand the gut conditions, be absorbed and reach distant organs in the body,” said Professor Mathivanan.

“These milk EVs were found to have a functional role. The milk EVs were able to control the growth of the primary tumour, which is very positive. However, there were occasions this led to accelerated cancer metastasis.”

The key to successfully utilising this for cancer therapy, according to PhD researcher Rahul Sanwlani, is in the timing. “We found the timing of administering cow’s milk EVs was critical. Administration of cow’s milk EVs after surgically removing the primary tumours resulted in reducing metastasis and improved the survival rates.”

This research defines a novel role of cow milk EVs in cross-species communication and their context-dependent activity in cancer progression.

“Our research paves the way for developing novel therapeutic alternatives to more efficiently treat and manage patients by combining existing standard-of-care therapy with milk EVs,” said co-researcher, Dr Pamali Fonseka.