Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope
Single molecule studies of extracellular vesicles: A quantitative approach for identifying signatures of pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest diseases. Since it is usually diagnosed at a very late stage, pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to treat. When developing a new diagnostic test, one major goal is to detect the disease at an early stage. Because pancreatic cancer varies from person to person, individually tailored treatments are also urgently needed. Towards these goals, we will study molecules released by pancreatic cancer cells. When small portions of the cell pinch off, they form fluid filled sacs filled with cargo molecules: extracellular vesicles. Because these vesicles can move freely through the blood, they can be easily harvested through a blood draw. This makes them a promising source for medical screening. Vesicles can also contain important information about the status of pancreatic cancer. While determining the exact make-up of individual vesicles has been challenging, we can count their content and determine their size using super resolution microscopy. Our quantitative super resolution microscopy approach is both extremely precise and detects individual molecules. Our methods will be used to count certain sugar-containing proteins that are associated with pancreatic cancer as well as be used to determine the size of vesicles. The goal is to isolate vesicles that originate from pancreatic cancer cells and determine their size and specific cargo. Our long-term goal is to make this powerful platform routinely used for personalized medicine.