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Observations from ASEMV 2019

October 18, 2019 – Observations from ASEMV 2019

Last week Spectradyne attended ASEMV 2019 in Monterey, California, both as an exhibitor and as a presenter. We were truly impressed by the enthusiasm of the EV researchers and by how fast the field is advancing. Scientists described their work on all manner of diseases including brain cancer, Alzheimer’s, and atherosclerosis (to name a few), with extracellular vesicles being studied both as key biomarkers and as therapeutic agents.

One thing we noticed at the meeting was a less dogmatic approach to what is an “EV” vs. an “exosome”. At past events we’ve heard scientists talk about stringent definitions and the importance of knowing the origin of different vesicle types. While those topics were still present, and while it’s certainly ideal to know more details about one’s vesicles, there seemed to be an acknowledgement that this detailed information is often not obtainable, and probably wouldn’t be for some time. Biology is exceedingly complicated, and this was a practical admission that certain details didn’t need to be the focus of research. At least not yet.

With so many brilliant scientists working to make a positive impact on some of humanity’s biggest health challenges, Spectradyne was gratified to have a small part in the ASEMV conference. Our talk focused on the importance of orthogonal techniques in characterizing vesicle mixtures, a topic that has been addressed in this blog before: see “The benefits and perils of orthogonal measurements.”

This topic is truly crucial for the EV community because, unfortunately, we continue to see spurious data in the talks of both new and established researchers alike. In many of the talks at ASEMV 2019, scientists presented information about the detection of protein markers through various assays. On a subsequent slide they would then show an image of a vesicle size distribution with a nice well-defined peak, usually measured by NTA, with a comment similar to “and NTA confirms an exosome size of xx nm”. This statement was voiced as tacit confirmation that not only were the vesicles in question present (probably true), but that they were well-purified in the formulation (probably not).

As followers of Spectradyne’s MRPS technology know, these peaks are not infrequently false peaks and without some extra characterization, such as an orthogonal measurement, the purification claim must be greeted with skepticism.

In the presence of the hard-working group of scientists at ASEMV 2019, Spectradyne is justifiably humble – we aren’t experts in any of the biology being presented! However, the purification question is an important one to get right. Many researchers are essentially drawing correlations between an observation (perhaps a therapeutic outcome) and an input (the presence of a certain type of EV). Without a clear understanding of the quality of the input, such a correlation can be easily mis-attributed. If that happens, then improvement of the formulation, and of the scientific outcome, cannot be well controlled (though a researcher can always get lucky), and advancement of scientific knowledge can be delayed.

Thankfully, this message truly resonated with the researchers who heard our talk. We know better than most people how difficult measurements of biological nanoparticles can be, and we know how tempting it can be to believe a nice well-behaved peak in a size distribution. However, we can all agree that however tempting that pretty peak is in a publication, it’s more important in the end to get the science right.

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