A nanoscale product of human cells that was once considered junk is now known to play an important role in intercellular communication and in many disease processes, including cancer metastasis. Researchers at Penn State have developed nanoprobes to rapidly isolate these rare markers, called extracellular vesicles (EVs), for potential development of precision cancer diagnoses and personalized anticancer treatments.
“Most cells generate and secrete extracellular vesicles,” says Siyang Zheng, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. “But they are difficult for us to study. They are sub-micrometer particles, so we really need an electron microscope to see them. There are many technical challenges in the isolation of nanoscale EVs that we are trying to overcome for point-of-care cancer diagnostics.”
Dr. Stegall’s Comments: I am convinced that the future of cancer treatment involves looking at cancer on a cellular level, rather than merely on the tumor level. Detailed information about the cancer cells themselves is essential in optimally treating the patient. All too often, we focus solely on tumors. Although tumors are important targets of treatment, we cannot allow them to distract us from the fact that cancer is a systemic disease. Tumors release cancer cells throughout the body – cancer stem cells and circulating tumor cells – and these should be the main targets of our detection and treatment strategies.