Extracellular Vesicles in Oncology: Progress and Pitfalls in the Methods of Isolation and Analysis

Donatella Lucchetti, Andrea Fattorossi, Alessandro Sgambato

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The possibility to study solid tumors through the analysis of extracellular vesicles in biological fluids is one of the most exciting and rapidly advancing field in cancer research. The extracellular vesicles are tiny sacs released in both physiological and pathological conditions and can be used to monitor the evolution of several pathological states, including neoplastic diseases. Indeed, these vesicles carry biological informations and can affect the behavior of recipient cells by transferring proteins, DNA, RNA, and microRNA. In this review the authors analyze the methods to collect biological fluid samples (urine, plasma/serum, and cell supernatant), and to isolate and quantify extracellular vesicles highlighting advantages and drawbacks. Moreover, the authors provide an overview on the adoption and the advantages of the methods (such as digital PCR, next generation sequencing, reverse-phase protein microarrays, flow-cytometry, etc.) most frequently used to analyze the molecular content of extracellular vesicles. Despite the great scientific interest on this topic, there is still a great uncertainty about which is the best method for the collection, isolation, quantification, and molecular evaluation of these vesicles and a standardization is needed. The features of EVs make them ideal candidates for liquid biopsy-based biomarkers. However, the small size of EVs makes their analysis very difficult and requires multiple advanced technologies, being therefore a limitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1700716
JournalBiotechnology Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Animals
  • Biomarkers/metabolism
  • DNA/metabolism
  • Extracellular Vesicles/chemistry
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs/metabolism
  • RNA/metabolism


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