Ultrasensitive detection of cancer biomarkers by nickel-based isolation of polydisperse extracellular vesicles from blood

Michela Notarangelo, Chiara Zucal, Angelika Modelska, Isabella Pesce, Giorgina Scarduelli, Cristina Potrich, Lorenzo Lunelli, Cecilia Pederzolli, Paola Pavan, Giancarlo la Marca, Luigi Pasini, Paola Ulivi, Himisha Beltran, Francesca Demichelis, Alessandro Provenzani, Alessandro Quattrone, Vito G. D'Agostino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are secreted membranous particles intensively studied for their potential cargo of diagnostic markers. Efficient and cost-effective isolation methods need to be established for the reproducible and high-throughput study of EVs in the clinical practice. Methods: We designed the nickel-based isolation (NBI) to rapidly isolate EVs and combined it with newly-designed amplified luminescent proximity homogeneous assay or digital PCR to detect biomarkers of clinical utility. Findings: From plasma of 46 healthy donors, we systematically recovered small EV (~250 nm of mean diameter; ~3 × 1010/ml) and large EV (~560 nm of mean diameter; ~5 × 108/ml) lineages ranging from 50 to 700 nm, which displayed hematopoietic/endothelial cell markers that were also used in spike-in experiments using EVs from tumor cell lines. In retrospective studies, we detected picomolar concentrations of prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) in fractions of EVs isolated from the plasma of prostate cancer patients, discriminating them from control subjects. Directly from oil-encapsulated EVs for digital PCR, we identified somatic BRAF and KRAS mutations circulating in the plasma of metastatic colorectal cancer (CRC) patients, matching 100% of concordance with tissue diagnostics. Importantly, with higher sensitivity and specificity compared with immuno-isolated EVs, we revealed additional somatic alterations in 7% of wild-type CRC cases that were subsequently validated by further inspections in the matched tissue biopsies. Interpretation: We propose NBI-combined approaches as simple, fast, and robust strategies to probe the tumor heterogeneity and contribute to the development of EV-based liquid biopsy studies. Fund: Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (AIRC), Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio Trento e Rovereto (CARITRO), and the Italian Ministero Istruzione, Università e Ricerca (Miur).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-126
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - May 2019


  • Alpha
  • Biomarkers
  • Cancer
  • Droplet PCR
  • Extracellular vesicles
  • Liquid biopsy
  • Nickel

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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