Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are the keys to future healthcare, as they make it possible to diagnose complex diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease more quickly and more accurately. EVs are microscopic particles secreted by both healthy and diseased cells. They contain a variety of biomolecules such as proteins, lipids, and DNA/RNA, originating from the cell that produced them. They are found in all bodily fluids and circulate throughout the body. As they are able to transmit certain molecules, they act primarily as ‘messengers’ between cells.

Extracellular vesicles are produced by all cells, including diseased cells such as tumour cells. This is why they are considered so important. After all, they contain ‘markers’ of such diseased cells, which can be found in extremely small quantities in bodily fluids such as urine or blood. If we are aware of these markers, they will enable us to detect cancer, for example, in relatively simple diagnostic tests. They also allows us to closely monitor the body’s response to a particular treatment and to detect possible relapse more quickly.  The big question is, of course, what EV markers are associated with what condition. To work this out, the Centre for Proteomics (CFP) uses a wide range of mass spectrometry techniques to identify these markers. Once the markers are known, this not only considerably speeds up the diagnosis, but also the initiation of treatment, which in most cases will vastly increase the chance of treatment being successful. In addition, there is the possibility of using them as a target for an effective drug. This is also why pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies have shown a keen interest in a method for isolating and analysing these vesicles.

Research into these markers is moving rapidly in the field of oncology in particular. We are already able to use these vesicles to very quickly diagnose certain specific cancers and determine what treatment may be effective. Researchers of Alzheimer’s disease are also keenly interested in the use of EVs to provide an accurate diagnosis at an early stage. For this reason, a project is to be initiated together with partners in the fields of pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, which is to carry out research into EV biomarkers that will enable the rapid diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.