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Approach Based on Extracellular Vesicles (EVs) May Enable Earlier Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer, one of the nation’s deadliest diseases, kills 80 percent of those diagnosed within one year, but an Arizona State University researcher has devised an early detection technique that could help improve those odds, according to a new study. Biomedical Engineering professor Tony Hu, Ph.D., of the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, and colleagues, in research published online on February 8, 2016 in Nature: Biomedical Engineering, describe a method for finding tiny bubbles of material called extracellular vesicles (EVs), which can identify pancreatic cancer in its initial stages. “Pancreatic cancer is one type of cancer we desperately need an early blood biomarker for,” Dr. Hu said. Typically, pancreatic cancer, which kills about 40,000 people a year, has few symptoms, spreads quickly, and isn’t diagnosed until it’s in an advanced stage. Approximately 95 percent of patients die within five years of diagnosis. “Other technology has been used for detection, but it doesn’t work very well because of the nature of this cancer,” Dr. Hu said. “It’s really hard to capture an early diagnostic signal when there are no symptoms. It’s not like breast cancer, where you may feel pain and you can easily check for an abnormal growth.” Dr. Hu’s research, a pilot study involving nearly 160 people, showed the ability to differentiate patients with pancreatic cancer, pancreatitis, and healthy subjects. If proven effective on a larger scale, it could lead to a screening exam that could save lives. Further, the technique may ultimately be used to detect a range of diseases based on their unique EV signatures. (Dr. Hu’s team, in a small study, has already shown the ability to detect tuberculosis.) The Nature: Biomedical Engineering article is titled “Nanoplasmonic Quantification of Tumour-Derived Extracellular Vesicles in Plasma Microsamples for Diagnosis and Treatment Monitoring.”

The new method detects EVs derived from tumors that carry a particular surface protein that functions as a telltale marker for pancreatic cancer. The ability to accurately detect this protein, known as EphA2, may allow it to serve as a signpost that could diagnose even the earliest stages of pancreatic cancer.

To learn more about EVs and the science underlying Dr. Hu’s work, please click on the following link (https://biodesign.asu.edu/news/sentinels-blood-new-diagnostic-pancreatic...).

[Press release] [Nature: Biomedical Engineering abstract]