Circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and exosomes, both released from the primary tumor into peripheral blood, are a promising source of cancer biomarkers. They are detectable in the blood and carry a large diversity of biological molecules, which can be used for the diagnosis and monitoring of minimally invasive cancers. However, due to their intrinsic differences in counts, size, and molecular contents, studies have focused on only one type of vesicle.
Rseaserchers at the University of Michigan have developed an integrated system to sequentially isolate CTCs and exosomes from a single patient blood sample for further profiling and analysis. The CTCs are isolated using a commercial filtration method and then the remaining blood is processed using multiple cycles of ultracentrifugation to isolate the exosomes. The method uses two available technologies where the eluent from CTC isolation is usually discarded and interfaces them, so that the eluent can be interfaced to exosome isolation methods. The CTCs are identified based on fluorescence staining of their surface markers, while the exosomes are analyzed using transmission electron microscopy, nanosight tracking analysis, and mass spec proteomic analysis. This analysis showed CTCs detected by their surface markers for metastatic hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), while essentially none were detected for cirrhosis. The exosome analysis resulted in the identification of ∼500–1000 exosome proteins per sample confirmed by detection of exosome surface markers CD9, CD63, CD81, and TSG101 in addition to proteins related to cancer progression. Proteins enriched in HCC exosomes were shown to be involved in the immune response, metastasis, and proliferation.