JUN 24, 2021 8:00 AM PDT

Test Lets Cancer Patients Track Whether Their Treatment Is Working in Real Time

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Researchers from Singapore have created the ExoSCOPE, the world’s first blood test for tracking whether or not a patient’s cancer treatment is effective, 24 hours after commencing treatment. This new technology significantly accelerates oncologists’ evaluation process, allowing them to quickly pivot or fine-tune treatment strategies to maximize patients’ chances of successful outcomes.

The nanotechnology platform was developed by lead biomedical engineering expert Shao Huilin and a team of researchers at the National University of Singapore. The extracellular vesicle monitoring of small-molecule chemical occupancy and protein expression, or ExoSCOPE, measures extracellular vesicles (EVs), tiny lipid-bound particles naturally released from cells. 

These particles can serve as biomarkers for the effectiveness of chemotherapeutic drugs for treating solid tumors. When drug molecules successfully attach to malignant cells and initiate tumor killing, cells release EV “bubbles” containing the drug into the patient’s bloodstream.

“Conventional procedures such as tumor imaging are not only expensive but also delayed,” explained Shao. “For these methods, treatment effectiveness can only be determined after weeks. Using the ExoSCOPE, we can directly measure the outcomes of drug effectiveness within 24 hours of treatment initiation. This will significantly reduce the time and cost for cancer treatment monitoring.”

The ExoSCOPE assay is quick (taking under an hour to complete) and requires just a small blood sample from the patient, as opposed to an invasive biopsy or complicated imaging procedure.

“So, it is less invasive and yet more informative,” said Shao. “In this way, doctors could monitor a patient’s response to treatment more regularly during the course of the treatment, and make timely adjustments to customize the treatment for better outcomes.”

Clinical trials to validate the ExoSCOPE’s potential have yielded promising results—the assay achieved an accuracy rate of 95 percent when tracking treatment efficacy in a cohort of 106 lung cancer patients. The team now plans to expand the application potential of the technology for use with different cancer drugs and more cancer types. According to predictions by the researchers, the technology may be commercially available in the next three years.

 

 

Sources: Nature Nanotechnology, NUS News.


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
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