Exosomes are tiny droplets secreted by cells and are made up of a thin lipid membrane (think of soap bubble), but only about 100 nanometer in size, filled with liquid, and packed with protein and nucleic acids. Exosomes have been recognized to play a critical role in many diseases, notably cancer. Indeed, exosomes are tiny “parcels” sent among cells, carrying information about the cell-of-origin – a fingerprint of the cell and the disease –that could reprogram the recipient cell, turn it into a cancerous cell, and thus promote cancer dissemination. Exosomes are found in abundance in blood, hence it should be possible to intercept these individual “parcels”, decode their content, the cell-of-origin, and intended recipient cell. This information could be used to diagnose the disease much earlier, anticipate on its progression, which could in turn guide therapy and prevent progression. However, state-of-the art technologies for analyzing exosomes are not sufficiently sensitive, and hence thousands, if not millions of exosomes need to be aggregated and mashed up before they can be measured, whereby all information about individual exosomes is lost, and the signal from diseased cells cannot be distinguished from the healthy cells.
Dr. David Juncker of McGill University has been developing a new groundbreaking technology called Digital Omics of Single Exosomes (DOSE) for the analysis of millions of individual exosomes at a time. Thanks to funding in the first phase of Genome Canada’s Disruptive Innovation in Genomics competition, the feasibility of DOSE was validated, and will now be developed as a platform technology for high-throughput single exosome analysis. Together with his partners, they will apply DOSE to study colorectal cancer liver metastasis (CRCLM), a common form of cancer affecting more than 13,000 Canadians per year with a death rate greater than 70 per cent. The team aims to identify exosomal fingerprints of CRCLM that may be used to gain understanding about this cancer, to develop blood-based diagnostic tests, and guide therapeutic interventions.
It is anticipated that the development of DOSE will pave the way for commercialization through a spin-off company that will provide instruments, reagents, services. DOSE could transform cancer research, clinical trials and overall cancer management, all with a simple, low-cost and non-invasive blood test. The development of the platform will create jobs for Canadians, attract investment and better position Canada in the $40 billion cancer diagnostics market.