Our healthcare is of a very high quality and accessible to all. Due to rising rates of chronic diseases, costs are increasing annually, and this is putting pressure on the healthcare system. Policy and technology must be combined to ensure sustainable solutions to enable us to continue to provide the best healthcare to everyone in the future. This transition is possible if we are successful in keeping people healthy for longer. The emphasis is therefore increasingly being placed on prevention and early diagnosis. The earlier we can detect a condition, the sooner we can intervene and prevent that condition from becoming chronic. Trans Tech Diagnostics (TTD) is therefore focusing entirely on the detection of early-stage biomarkers in the form of extracellular vesicles (EVs).

Extracellular vesicles are microscopic particles released by both healthy and diseased cells. They contain a variety of molecules (proteins, DNA/RNA, lipids), originating from the cell that produced them, and they are found in all bodily fluids (blood, urine, etc.). Extracellular vesicles circulate throughout the body, and as they are able to transmit certain molecules, they act primarily as ‘messengers’ between cells. If a person is ill, an EV will have a different composition due to the presence of different or mutated biomarkers. If these markers are known and recognised, it is possible to use blood or urine samples to determine what condition a patient is suffering from, even if he or she is not yet displaying any symptoms of that disease.

TTD is an Interreg V project organised jointly by Flanders and the Netherlands, which is being run by Maastricht University, and of which VITO is a member alongside 6 other partners. The purpose of this project is to identify EVs that can be used to assess the risks of developing cardiovascular diseases more effectively. The hope, therefore, is not only to provide preventative treatment, but also to diagnose TIAs (transient ischemic attacks, which are often precursors of a much more severe stroke) more easily, and to monitor stroke patients more effectively. Researchers in this project are not only searching for new biomarkers, but also continuing to develop the technology to isolate these EVs from samples of bodily fluid and detect biomarkers in a simple and user-friendly way.

2019 is set to be a very important year for this project, as it is now in its final stage.