Dr. Lee's laboratory specializes in developing sensitive, fast and cost-effective diagnostic systems by bringing together ideas and techniques embodied in physics, engineering and computation.

Advanced Biosensors for Exosome Analysis

Hakho Lee, PhD
Hakho Lee, PhD
Hostetter MGH Research Scholar 2017-2022
Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program, Center for Systems Biology
Associate Professor of Radiology, Harvard Medical School

All living cells in a body secrete extremely small membrane particles, called exosomes. Cells package their key contents, such as proteins, DNA and RNA, into these nanosized particles, and send them out for long-distance communication with other cells. You can think of exosomes as a nanoscale version of the pneumatic tube systems that are used to transport items through large buildings.

But cancer cells have more insidious plans. Exosomes that originate from cancer cells can fool immune cells to avoid detection, making healthy cells cancerous and helping to spread cancer from its original site to other parts of the body.

Unfortunately, many of the properties of exosomes, including their potential for clinical treatment, are largely unknown. The particle type is a new entry in our list of ways to screen for cancer, and there is no screening tool available to detect and categorize them. We seek to advance cutting-edge technologies to accelerate exosome research both at the basic and translational level.

At the basic level, we are developing a new imaging technique to visualize and screen individual exosomes. The technology will help us learn more about how exosomes are produced, and how many different types exist.

In our translational research, we aim to establish a cost-effective, easy-to-use system that can integrate exosome screening tools into clinical routines, such as standard blood tests. In a bid to achieve this goal, we are making a stamp-size optical chip that can detect many different types of exosomes simultaneously.

The success of these efforts could help to create new paradigms in cancer research and care. Exosomes will be a small but powerful marker, allowing us to detect signs of cancer from a drop of blood, and to identify when tumor cells have developed resistance to treatment.