Extracellular vesicles as potential biomarkers for diagnosis and recurrence detection of hepatocellular carcinoma

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) poses a significant global health burden, ranking as the most common primary malignant liver tumor and a leading cause of cancer-related mortality. Despite its prevalence, current diagnostic tools often rely on invasive procedures and have technical limitations. In recent years, the emergence of non-invasive liquid biopsies has revolutionized cancer diagnostics, offering new avenues for detecting and monitoring HCC progression. Among the various analytes derived from liquid biopsies, extracellular vesicles (EVs) have emerged as promising biomarkers for HCC.

Researchers at Muenster University Hospital conducted a prospective single-center cohort study to investigate the utility of serum EVs in diagnosing and monitoring HCC. The study included 37 HCC patients and 20 patients with non-malignant liver disease (NMLD) as a control group. Serum EVs from both groups were analyzed before and after liver surgery using microbead-based magnetic particle sorting and flow cytometry to detect characteristic surface proteins of EVs.

The analysis revealed significant differences in the expression levels of specific surface proteins on EVs between HCC patients and those with NMLD. Notably, HCC patients who experienced tumor recurrence within 12 months after surgery exhibited lower levels of CD31 on EVs compared to those without recurrence. Additionally, EVs from the NMLD group showed higher expressions of CD41b compared to EVs from the HCC group. Moreover, the study observed significant changes in CD19 dynamics in EVs of the NMLD group, with preoperative values being higher than postoperative values.

These findings suggest that EVs hold promise as potential targets for the development of diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for HCC. By leveraging the unique molecular signatures present on EVs, clinicians may be able to detect HCC recurrence early and non-invasively, facilitating timely intervention and improving patient outcomes. However, further research is warranted to validate these findings and conduct more in-depth analysis of specific EV markers to elucidate their role in HCC diagnosis and therapy.

The study highlights the potential of EVs as valuable biomarkers in the diagnosis and monitoring of HCC. As non-invasive tools, EV-based assays offer a promising avenue for improving HCC management by enabling early detection of recurrence and guiding personalized treatment strategies. Continued research efforts in this area are essential to harness the full potential of EVs in advancing liver cancer care.

Juratli MA, Pollmann NS, Oppermann E, Mohr A, Roy D, Schnitzbauer A, Michalik S, Vogl T, Stoecklein NH, Houben P, Katou S, Becker F, Hoelzen JP, Andreou A, Pascher A, Bechstein WO, Struecker B. (2024) Extracellular vesicles as potential biomarkers for diagnosis and recurrence detection of hepatocellular carcinoma. Sci Rep 14(1):5322. [article]

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