Categorising cancer through biomarkers in extracellular vesicles (EV)

Project overview

Project lead: Alicia Llorente
Institution: Oslo University Hospital
Partners: Viktor Berge, Oslo University Hospital, Norway; Guido Jenster, Erasmus MC, The Netherlands; Aija Line, BMC, Latvia; Jesus de la Fuente, ICMA-CSIC, Spain
Funding: The Norwegian Research Council/The Norwegian Cancer Society (ERA-NET on Translational Cancer Research)
Duration: 2018–31/12/2021

Research group

The Digital Life Norway project EV-LiquidBiopsy at Oslo University Hospital is developing new ways to identify and categorise cancers by looking at extracellular vesicles (EV) in blood and urine. These tiny packages of encapsulated biomarkers circulate in body fluids and contain a wealth of biological information. Physicians could potentially use the information to identify not only if a patient has cancer or not, but also inform them about cancer stage and indicate what kind of treatment is necessary. 

The method of looking at body fluids to detect cancer, called liquid biopsy, is already a popular method in hospitals. Compared to traditional tissue biopsy, liquid biopsy is less invasive which avoids many negative side effects and can be collected often to detect changes over time. In a liquid biopsy, oncologists search patient’s blood or other biofluid for circulating cancer cells, free molecules such as nucleic acids and proteins, or extracellular vesicles to find information about the cancer. 

Cells produce extracellular vesicles containing nucleic acids, proteins, lipids, and metabolites during regular cellular processes like cell communication or cell death. The molecular information encapsulated in EV from cancerous tissue is like a fingerprint that can help researchers identify and understand the cancer. Figuring out how to capture this biomarker information from extracellular vesicles in body fluids would unlock massive amounts of data for detecting disease and offering personalised medicine

The EV-LiquidBiopsy project is taking on the challenge of developing a validated method for isolating and analyzing the EV content in different biofluids. Their goal is to develop a clinical tool that will tell oncologists specific details about their patient’s cancer. First, they will identify prostate cancer biomarkers in extracellular vesicles found in patients’ urine. This is challenging because urine contains extracellular vesicles that originate from different organs of the urogenital system, not only from the prostate. They will use mass spectrometry and next generation sequencing to profile the molecular content of urinary EVs from patients with different prostate cancer risk. Developing their clinical research questions in collaboration with patients and physicians will help the researchers to address clinical needs like reducing the number of steps between testing and treatment and classifying cancers to avoid unnecessary surgeries.

The researchers are using their skills in biobanking, extracellular vesicles, cancer, and biofluid analysis and leaning on the Centre for Digital Life Norway network to collaborate with labs that are experts in bioinformatics, biomarkers, and metabolomics. They are committed to training and encouraging new researchers and recently hired a post-doc with a background in cell biology and bioinformatics. With all of the resources from Centre for Digital Life Norway and other national and international researchers, they hope to complete the project by the end of 2022 and produce a clinical tool that can identify prostate cancer risk and inform treatment of prostate cancer patients using urine samples.

By Matthew Davidson