Looking for new ways to detect disease … via blood, sweat and tears

Dr. Patricia Maguire studies blood to figure out what it can tell us about health, disease and more (Photo: Nick Bradshaw, Fotonic)

Dr. Patricia Maguire studies blood to figure out what it can tell us about health, disease and more (Photo: Nick Bradshaw, Fotonic)

Dr. Patricia Maguire is determined to know how a family of tiny bubbles released by our cells could help doctors diagnose and track diseases. These tiny, tiny sacs — called extracellular vesicles (EV) — carry powerful information about our biology, Maguire says at TEDxUCD, and unpacking this information could lead to better screening for disease, she says.

EVs are released by every one of our cells — and “found in every one of our biological fluids — in our blood, in our tears, in our sweat, in our urine and even in our saliva,” Maguire says. “EVs contain genetic material and when this genetic material is sent to another cell, it can actually change the behavior of that cell,” she says. “What we’re finding is that the amount of these EVs and also the contents of these EVs — not only just in them, but also on them — can change.”

Research into the relationship between EVs and human disease is still in its infancy, but there have been some exciting preliminary findings, Maguire says. In one study, researchers found that patients with malignant brain tumors [glioma] had extremely elevated amounts of EVs in their blood, Maguire says. “To properly diagnose [glioma], we need to have advanced imaging and also sometimes very invasive operations … but what researchers have found when looking at the blood of these glioma patients is that they have billions more EVs in their blood and these extra EVs in their blood are actually coming from that brain tumor.”

In the future, could doctors diagnose and assign a stage to a tumor by just analyzing EVs in a patient’s blood? It’s quite possible, Maguire says, but there’s still a lot pieces of the puzzle missing. She hopes that someday researchers will not only diagnose using EVs, but figure out how to manipulate these bubbles to fight disease.

To learn more, watch Maguire’s whole talk below:

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