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Subspecialties Liquid biopsy, Oncology

Venerated Vesicles

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) could serve as strong cancer biomarkers since the membranous sacs carry signaling factors directly from their parent cell. The difficulty comes from current diagnostic techniques – a large sample of plasma is needed to carry out an EV assay, and this can often be time-consuming, expensive, and ultimately low-throughput. But a solution to that challenge may exist… researchers from Arizona, Texas, Maryland, and Beijing, have collaborated to discover a method of detecting EVs with just 1 µl of plasma from pancreatic cancer patients (1).

Why focus on pancreatic cancer? The aggressive disease undergoes early metastasis and has a high resistance to treatment – which is why only 7.7 percent of patients survive for more than five years after diagnosis (2). This is compounded by the fact that there is currently no effective, noninvasive biomarker for pancreatic cancer.

The investigational assay requires just a single droplet of unpurified plasma, and contains gold nanoparticle spheres and rods, that adhere to cancer-derived EVs from the pancreas. The EVs with attached nanospheres and nanorods appear bright yellow when viewed under a darkfield microscope.

In addition to operating as a diagnostic, the researchers suggest that their assay could also be used to track pancreatic cancer progression and monitor therapeutic response, which could be useful since the membrane-bound EVs are much less susceptible to the degradation that conventional protein biomarkers often face.

Although the investigators believe they’re a few years away from a regulatory submission, this proof-of-concept mouse model study gives hope of a future where the noninvasive diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and monitoring of therapy effectiveness might just be possible.

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  1. K Liang et al., “Nanoplasmonic quantification of tumour-derived extracellular vesicles in plasma microsamples for diagnosis and treatment monitoring”, Nature Biomed Eng, 1, (2017).
  2. National Cancer Institute, “Cancer stat facts: pancreas cancer”, (2017). Available at: Accessed February 14, 2017.
About the Author
William Aryitey

My fascination with science, gaming, and writing led to my studying biology at university, while simultaneously working as an online games journalist. After university, I travelled across Europe, working on a novel and developing a game, before finding my way to Texere. As Associate Editor, I’m evolving my loves of science and writing, while continuing to pursue my passion for gaming and creative writing in a personal capacity.

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