BIOPEXAL, the new exosome study that offers a new approach to early diagnosis of Alzheimer's

BIOPEXAL is a new study led by Ace Alzheimer Center in collaboration with the University of Barcelona, which aims to analyze the protein composition of plasma exosomes from Alzheimer's patients as a diagnostic tool and as a metohd of primary detection of the disease.

The principal investigator of the project is Dr. Amanda Cano, a researcher at Ace Alzheimer Center Barcelona, who designed the study based on the promising findings of BIOFACE, an Ace project that began in 2018. "BIOFACE is the breeding ground for this new study" states Dr. Cano. Being grounded in a research that has been ongoing for 3 years, "we hope to obtain interesting findings and opening a new way of understanding the pathophysiological mechanisms of Alzheimer's disease."

Exosomes and Alzheimer's disease

The invasive nature and high cost of current diagnostic techniques have aroused a growing scientific interest in plasma biomarkers. Biomarkers are parameters that serve as indicators of a biological state such as a pathology. In the case of plasma biomarkers, they are extracted from the blood through a simple routine analysis, without the need of a cerebrospinal fluid extraction or a scan. Therefore, the interest in these biomarkers lies in the fact that they are economically affordable, non-invasive for the patient, and available at any primary care center.

Exosomes are extracellular vesicles involved in cell-to-cell communication processes. In the case of Alzheimer's disease, it has been described that they are capable of informing the different cells involved in a pathological process that there is an alteration and they do so by exchanging proteins. There is scientific evidence describing that plasma exosomes - those in the blood - are capable of reflecting the molecular alterations that occur at the central level - in the brain - in the different stages of Alzheimer's development, and therefore could serve as peripheral biomarkers of the disease.

Two new areas of study

The project consists of two phases. The first will be carried out at Ace Alzheimer Center, and focuses on the study of the protein content of plasma exosomes from patients at different stages of Alzheimer's disease development (patients with subjective memory complaints, with mild cognitive impairment and with dementia caused by Alzheimer's disease). The process consists of extracting plasma exosomes from blood samples of these patients and analyzing the levels of 184 proteins involved in Alzheimer's disease and related to inflammation and neurodegenerative processes. The aim is to evaluate whether there is a pattern to identify those patients with mild cognitive impairment who progress to dementia and those who do not.

The second phase of the study will be carried out in the laboratories of the UB, and will study the role of plasma exosomes in the spread of altered molecules in Alzheimer's disease throughout the brain.

Scientific and social relevance

BIOPEXAL is a promising project with two main objectives; to evaluate the potential of plasma exosomes as a tool for early diagnosis and monitoring of Alzheimer's disease, and to understand their role in the development of the pathology at the brain level. Dr. Cano emphasizes the importance of this study since "the first part will allow us to evaluate whether plasma exosomes serve as biomarkers and, secondly, if their potential to disseminate the disease is validated, we will have found a new therapeutic target that will open the door to a new way of neutralizing the progression of the disease".

The search for plasma biomarkers is one of the main challenges of research in the field of dementias. Therefore, being able to extract different patterns throughout the different phases of the disease will be a revolution. "This project has the potential to shed light in the field of Alzheimer's disease prognosis, early diagnosis and targeted treatment," concludes Dr. Cano.

You might also like

BLOG | Biomarkers: What are they?

Adela Orellana explains what biomarkers are and why research is key to the early detection of dementias.