Despite oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) being the most common form of oral cancer that is increasing in prevalence on a global scale, the survival rate has failed to significantly change during the past 30 years and stands at around five years. Existing treatment methods involve surgery, radiation, or both. A team of Japanese researchers is conducting innovative investigations with the aim of circumventing the challenges associated with the disease. 'Analysis of pathogenesis mechanism of cancer regulated by tissue-specific non-coding RNA' is a project underway at Fukuoka University in Japan. Pharmacologist Tomoyo Kawakubo-Yasukochi, who is based in the Department of Pharmaceutics, is working with a team of researchers to find genomic and epigenomic triggers of lifestyle diseases, with a focus on cancers. The team is using OSCC cell lines in its investigations. OSCC is a type of cancer that is becoming more and more prevalent, as Kawakubo-Yasukochi explains: 'Oral cancers (usually includes cancer of the lip, tongue, salivary glands and other sites in the mouth) account for three per cent of all cancers, and OSCC is the most common form, with a high potential for local invasion and lymph node metastasis. Despite an increasing prevalence on a global scale, the overall five-year survival rate has not significantly changed during the past 30 years.' Little is known about this type of cancer and Kawakubo-Yasukochi and her team are trying to fill gaps in understanding. Kawakubo-Yasukochi believes the lack of knowledge about OSCC is due to challenges associated with clinical specimens: 'I think the reason why little is known about the molecular mechanism of invasion/metastasis of OSCC, as well as other cancers, is because we cannot obtain and use pre-invasive/metastatic clinical specimens in basic research,' she says. 'When performing analysis using clinical specimens after invasion/metastasis, it is highly possible to detect secondary or tertiary reactions after invasion/metastasis rather than triggering them.' An important aspect of the team's work is a focus on exosomes and their role as intercellular communicators in the tumour environment. Exosomes mediate cell communication through the horizontal transfer of their cargo, including proteins, lipids, DNAs, miRNAs and mRNAs protected from protease and RNase mediated degradation by the surrounding lipid bilayer. They are important to the research because exosome release has been demonstrated in many proliferating cell types and detected in various bodily fluids, such as serum, urine and saliva. Further to this, tumour cells demonstrate a marked increase in exosome release, which is evidenced by their elevated presence in the plasma, ascites and pleural effusions of cancer patients. This led the researchers to hypothesise that exosome analysis could serve as a powerful diagnostic and therapeutic tool. 'This may uncover a new landscape for miRNAs in cancer therapy,' states Kawakubo-Yasukochi.