Background: Infection and graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) are the major causes for mortality and morbidity of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT). Plasma-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) contain disease-related proteins, DNAs and RNAs, and have recently been suggested as potential biomarker candidates for transplantation complications. However, EV isolation from small plasma volumes in clinical biomarker studies using conventional methods is challenging. We therefore investigated if EVs isolated by novel automated acoustic trapping could be developed as potential biomarkers for allo-HSCT complications by performing a clinical proof-of-principle study. Results: Plasma samples were collected from twenty consecutive patients with high-risk/relapsed hematologic malignancies undergoing allo-HSCT before transplantation and post-transplant up to 12 weeks. EVs were isolated from small plasma sample volumes (150 μl) by an automated, acoustofluidic-based particle trapping device, which utilizes a local λ/2 ultrasonic standing wave in a borosilicate glass capillary to capture plasma EVs among pre-seeded polystyrene microbeads through sound scatter interactions. We found that EVs could be reliably isolated from all plasma samples (n = 173) and that EV numbers increased more than 2-fold in the majority of patients after transplantation. Also, sufficient quantities of RNA for downstream microRNA (miRNA) analysis were obtained from all samples and EV miRNA profiles were found to differ from whole plasma profiles. As a proof of principle, expression of platelet-specific miR-142-3p in EVs was shown to correlate with platelet count kinetics after transplantation as expected. Importantly, we identified plasma EV miRNAs that were consistently positively correlated with infection and GvHD, respectively, as well as miRNAs that were consistently negatively correlated with these complications. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that acoustic enrichment of EVs in a clinical biomarker study setting is feasible and that downstream analysis of acoustically-enriched EVs presents a promising tool for biomarker development in allo-HSCT. Certainly, these findings warrant further exploration in larger studies, which will have significant implications not only for biomarker studies in transplantation but also for the broad field of EV-based biomarker discovery.
- Cell- och molekylärbiologi