Tumor cells need help from their environment to survive. This includes help from the extracellular matrix (ECM), a meshwork of proteins surrounding cells and immune cells like macrophages. Manipulating and targeting the ECM around cancer cells provides a promising and exciting alternative to targeting cancer cells. We have developed tumor-ECM specific nanobodies (single domain antibodies derived from alpaca) against ECM proteins that are present in the microenvironment of tumors and are nearly absent from normal adult tissues.
These images show how the nanobody (red) specifically binds to the ECM fibers present in the vicinity of breast cancer cells (green) that have metastasized to the lungs and do not bind the normal lung ECM (black region of the image). The tumor cells are surrounded by fibers of the ECM (red) and macrophages (magenta).
Nanobodies, specific for tumor ECM, can act as vehicles to carry cargo such as drugs to tumors and metastatic sites and are promising agents for the development of targeted imaging and therapeutic strategies.