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Liquid Biopsy for GBM- one step closer

New findings out of the University of Sussex could be paving the way to a new test for glioblastoma (GBM) using only fluids, like blood or cerebrospinal fluid.

Published in the Nature group’s Communications Biology journal,, the researchers showed that GBM cells produce tiny capsules, called small Extracellular Vesicles (sEVs), which are distinct between different GBM cell types.

If researchers can collect these sEVs from the blood or CSF they have the makings of a new diagnostic, prognostic or monitoring tool in our GBM-fighting arsenal.

Glioblastoma is the most common high-grade (aggressive) brain tumour in adults. Today, the only way to get an accurate diagnosis is through surgery.

Any progress towards less invasive methods to get accurate tumour information is welcome. That’s why this work on sEVs in GBM is so hopeful.

In this study, researchers took a close look at nine different GBM cell lines that they could grow in the lab, seven were commercially available, and two were from patient-derived stem cells. They found that the different cell lines acted in different ways. Some liked to grow in one place, while others liked to migrate away from where they started.

They grouped the cells with similar characteristics into four signature groups, and analysed them. They found that each of the four signature groups had high levels of different proteins. The next question was: Is this the same in the sEVs?

Each tiny sEV capsule contains lots of information in the form of proteins, fats and nucleic acids. The team, led by Dr Georgios Giamas, looked at whether the information in the capsules was the same as the information in the cells they came from. Excitingly, they found they were right. The characteristics of different cells were mimicked in the sEVs they produced.

One of the special things about sEVs is their small size means they can cross the blood brain barrier, and be carried in the blood stream.

The sEVs that the researchers studied in this work are truly tiny, less than 200nm. For comparison, a piece of paper is about 100,000nm thick.

The researchers said “We believe that such biomarkers [proteins] should be detectable in sEVs derived from patients’ biofluids (i.e. blood or CSF), thus helping diagnosis and development of future personalized therapies.”

While this is great news the researchers themselves acknowledge that the clinical use is a way down the track yet. “Overall, these data could assist future GBM in vitro studies and provide insights for the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic methods as well as personalized treatment strategies.”

This exciting research brings us one step closer to the day when a diagnosis, an accurate prognosis, or even routine monitoring is in the prick of a needle, and not only a surgeon’s scalpel.

If you have any questions about this, or any of the research projects we fund, please contact us at research@thebraintumourcharity.org