Giuliana Pelicci wins an EraPermed grant to explore the use of liquid biopsy in glioblastoma

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Giuliana Pelicci, Director of  “Biology of Glioblastomas and Brain Metastases and Potential Therapeutic Targets Unit of the dept of experimental oncology, together with a network of international scientists from Carlo Besta foundation, Clinica Universidad de Navarra and CIC bioGUNE in Spain, Semmelweis University in Hungary, and Tel Aviv University, won an EraPerMed grant, in the context of the Joint Transnational Call 2020, to explore the potential role of liquid biopsy, and in particular extracellular vesicles, as a diagnostic and prognostic tool also allowing the monitoring of the response to treatment and the molecular characterization of glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma is the most common and lethal tumor of the central nervous system. Current therapies can only slightly prolong patient survival. Therefore, new therapeutic approaches are needed. In particular, glioblastoma is characterized by extreme molecular heterogeneity, both within the tumor mass and among patients. Understanding the molecular features of the tumor, and how these may change in time or during treatment, is thus critical for effective targeted treatments. However, protected by the skull, glioblastoma is poorly accessible. Alternative methods are thus needed to define the molecular features of neoplastic cells and identify those key mechanisms underlying tumor progression, thus enabling to effectively interfere with such mechanisms, with a targeted –precision medicine-based approach– to halt or slow down tumor progression.   

In particular, the project focuses on the study of extracellular vesicles, small structures –5-1000 nm in size, surrounded by a lipid membrane and containing proteins, lipids and nucleic acids– which are released by glioblastoma cells in the bloodstream. Analyzing both vesicle concentration – namely evaluating whether the number of vesicles correlates with glioblastoma presence and status – and their molecular features – their specific content– will enable to evaluate their possible exploitation as early marker of disease or to monitor response to treatment in time, non-invasively – simply by means of a blood test. Moreover, the molecular characterization of the vesicles will enable to identify the most appropriate and effective targeted treatment against glioblastoma.

In parallel, in the frame of these studies, ethical aspects linked to precision medicine will be also explored.