Stefania Faletti wins a “Roche grant for independent research”

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Stefania Faletti -postdoc in the “Biology of Glioblastomas and Brain Metastases and Potential Therapeutic Targets Unit”, headed by Giuliana Pelicci- wins a “Roche grant for independent research” to assess the potential of extracellular vesicles as a novel liquid biopsy tool for the diagnosis and disease monitoring of glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma is the most lethal tumor of the central nervous system. Poor efficiency of current standard therapy -mostly based on surgery followed by chemo- and radio- therapy-, is mainly due to the high level of heterogeneity: patients have different tumors from a molecular point of view, cancer cells within a tumor mass are highly different from each other’s, and cancer cells’ molecular traits change over time, during disease progression or after treatment. Novel treatment options are thus being explored; however, they require a precise characterization of the tumor, to define such heterogeneity and enable early diagnosis and monitoring of the disease.

In this context, the potential of liquid biopsy is huge. Liquid biopsy relies on the analysis of circulating biomarkers in the blood, namely free DNA, RNA molecules or extracellular vesicles released by tumor cells. Extracellular vesicles are small structures made of lipidic membranes encapsulating nucleic acids, proteins, lipids deriving from the cells, which can be collected by a simple, non-invasive blood draw. Molecules contained in the extracellular vesicles mirror the features of the cells they come from, thus making them the perfect -currently lacking- tool for diagnosis and monitoring of the disease over time. For instance, if a tumor cell is characterized by a specific mutation, the DNA/RNA released in the extracellular vesicle would carry this mutation, enabling physicians to design personalized treatments specifically targeting this mutation. Similarly, the concentration of extracellular vesicles in the blood may allow to verify the presence of the tumor and its response to treatment.

However, to be used in the clinical setting, the procedure for the isolation, quantification, characterization of the extracellular vesicles has to be standardized.

Thanks to the financial support of Roche, with the final goal of introducing this approach in the clinical setting, Stefania Faletti’s project aims at testing the feasibility of analyzing the whole cargo of the extracellular vesicles -namely, DNA and RNA- as well as measuring, at the same time, their concentration in the blood, to assess their potential as a novel biomarker for the early diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression upon therapy in glioblastoma patients.