Extracellular vesicle-based liquid biopsy biomarkers and their application in precision immuno-oncology

While the field of precision oncology is rapidly expanding and more targeted options are revolutionizing cancer treatment paradigms, therapeutic resistance particularly to immunotherapy remains a pressing challenge. This can be largely attributed to the dynamic tumor-stroma interactions that continuously alter the microenvironment. While to date most advancements have been made through examining the clinical utility of tissue-based biomarkers, their invasive nature and lack of a holistic representation of the evolving disease in a real-time manner could result in suboptimal treatment decisions. Thus, using minimally-invasive approaches to identify biomarkers that predict and monitor treatment response as well as alert to the emergence of recurrences is of a critical need. Currently, research efforts are shifting towards developing liquid biopsy-based biomarkers obtained from patients over the course of disease. Liquid biopsy represents a unique opportunity to monitor intercellular communication within the tumor microenvironment which could occur through the exchange of extracellular vesicles (EVs). EVs are lipid bilayer membrane nanoscale vesicles which transfer a plethora of biomolecules that mediate intercellular crosstalk, shape the tumor microenvironment, and modify drug response. The capture of EVs using innovative approaches, such as microfluidics, magnetic beads, and aptamers, allow their analysis via high throughput multi-omics techniques and facilitate their use for biomarker discovery. Artificial intelligence, using machine and deep learning algorithms, is advancing multi-omics analyses to uncover candidate biomarkers and predictive signatures that are key for translation into clinical trials. With the increasing recognition of the role of EVs in mediating immune evasion and as a valuable biomarker source, these real-time snapshots of cellular communication are promising to become an important tool in the field of precision oncology and spur the recognition of strategies to block resistance to immunotherapy. Researchers at the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute discuss the emerging role of EVs in biomarker research describing current advances in their isolation and analysis techniques as well as their function as mediators in the tumor microenvironment. They also highlight recent lung cancer and melanoma studies that point towards their application as predictive biomarkers for immunotherapy and their potential clinical use in precision immuno-oncology.

Fig. 1

Overview of key characteristics related to biogenesis, biomarker expression, and cellular function of the major extracellular vesicle subsets of exosomes, microvesicles, apoptotic bodies and large oncosomes. Abbreviations: EV, extracellular vesicles; ESCRT endosomal sorting complex required for transport; ILV, intraluminal vesicle; MVB, multivesicular body. 

Asleh K, Dery V, Taylor C, Davey M, Djeungoue-Petga MA Rodney J. Ouellette R. (2023) Extracellular vesicle-based liquid biopsy biomarkers and their application in precision immuno-oncology. Biomarker Res [Epub ahead of print]. [article]

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