FastEV paves way for precision biomedicine

Extracellular vesicles, in short EVs, take part in many vital physiological processes and the progression of diseases, such as cancer, but isolation of EVs remains the bottleneck for their effective utilisation. University of Helsinki-based FastEV technology provides a novel approach to solving the issues of EV isolation.

Extracellular vesicles act like social media for cells

Extracellular vesicles are extremely small particles (size 40-1000 nm) released by cells. They are an ancient and ubiquitous communication system for all cells from bacteria to man. EVs mediate cellular communication similar to that of social media for biological systems. EVs are not just cell “selfies”, however, since the EV-mediated messages are also able to affect the recipient cell functions and fate.

The novel mechanism of cell signalling via EVs is a hot topic of contemporary cell biology and globally under intensive research focus. There is a rapidly increasing interest in the use of EVs in diagnostics (especially in the form of liquid biopsies), therapeutics, and in drug delivery. The composition and quantity of EVs changes in many diseases, opening possibilities to use them as early diagnostic or prognostic indicators. Furthermore, EVs could be utilised in the treatment of complex diseases, such as cancer, and they may carry much of the therapeutic potential of stem cells.

Huge opportunities and challenges with tiny vesicles

There is an ongoing search for specific mechanisms of diseases and reliable diagnostic biomarkers to detect them. In future, personalised health care and precision medicine could solve major economic problems by enabling improved screening and targeted treatment of diseases.

To uncover the biomarker signatures carried by EVs, they need to be isolated from analytically interfering components in the biofluid samples. Screening and validation of biomarkers requires thousands of samples and currently EV isolation is slow, laborious and expensive. Therefore, isolation represents a bottleneck for the utilisation of EVs.

EV research is very challenging as the minuscule size of EVs makes their isolation and measurement difficult. In addition, EVs are present in complex body fluids, including plasma, which calls for a variety of isolation approaches.

So far, EVs have been mainly isolated using four methods: ultracentrifugation, size exclusion chromatography, PEG-precipitation and ultrafiltration. Each of these methods have shortcomings, so that different methods need to be combined, which makes it even harder to obtain EVs fast and consistently in a high throughput manner.

What makes FastEV unique  

FastEV outcompetes rivalling techniques by its simplicity, affordability, scalability and resulting top EV quality. FastEV is suitable for multi-well plate format as well as automated liquid handling allowing high-throughput processing of 100s or even 1000s of samples per day. It can be tuned to optimise the isolation conditions according to the end user needs case by case. It provides great potential for a wide range of commercial applications from services to different product areas.  

“Researchers are just like anybody else in wanting to find an improved way of doing things”, says adjunct professor Pia Siljander from University of Helsinki. “Our EV research group has been working hard to solve methodological problems we encounter daily in our research on EVs. The EV field is rapidly developing and still very young, so we need to put a lot of effort into the improvement of methods and standardisation".

FastEV was developed as an answer to one of the difficulties we ourselves have faced. Now, we think it would be great for others as well and it could significantly expedite EV utilisation and biomarker discovery.

The team, projects and funding behind FastEV

The main driving forces behind the technological development of FastEV are adjunct professor Pia Siljander and Dr. Maija Puhka at the University of Helsinki, who have been at the forefront of EV research since the early days. Puhka and Siljander possess extensive collaborative networks in the highly specialised EV field, including experience of method standardisation and a long track-record in method development.

“We want to help the quickly expanding researcher network that comes across EVs in their research systems. Since the methodologies are often faulty even in high impact journals and the technologies and equipment for EV analyses are highly specialised, it is critical that the researcher is able to bypass the obstacles to get to the real research questions”, says Maija Puhka.

FastEV could help researchers globally.

EV research at the University of Helsinki has received broad support over the years. Recently, FastEV was granted funding by Business Finland to boost the commercialisation of the technology. The team has grown and includes technical assistant Kuan Kiat Chew and commercial champion Thomas Lemström.

What comes next?

The FastEV team is currently focusing on producing comparative data and furthering business design. Collaborators and partners are being sought out for proof-of-concept testing of the FastEV isolation and downstream analysis.

“We would love to show the potential of FastEV linked with a powerful downstream technology, such as transcriptomics or targeted protein biomarker discovery systems,” says Maija Puhka. 

Thomas Lemström is guiding the team in ramping up co-development projects and go-to-market activities. “Several diagnostic and therapeutic EV-based products are at different stages on their way to the market. It is in the interest of these ventures to remove complications from their EV isolation processes. By doing that they can significantly increase their hit rate and return-on-investment in R&D.", says Lemström. 

We offer our early stage partners a great position to benefit from a groundbreaking technology. For them FastEV provides means to get ahead in the EV race.

Meet us at Slush, booth 6.D1!

You can also meet us at Medica 2019 or Biofit 2019 (contact Thomas Lemström)