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Exosomes are lipid bilayer-enclosed extracellular vesicles (EVs) that contain proteins and nucleic acids. They are secreted by all cells and circulate in the blood. Specific detection and isolation of cancer cell-derived exosomes in circulation is currently lacking. Using mass spectrometry analyses, we identified a cell surface proteoglycan, glypican-1 (GPC1), specifically enriched on cancer cell-derived exosomes. GPC1+ circulating exosomes (crExos) were monitored and isolated using flow cytometry from the serum of cancer patients and mice with cancer. GPC1+ crExos were detected in the serum of patients with pancreas cancer with absolute specificity and sensitivity, distinguishing healthy subjects and patients with a benign pancreas disease from patients with early and late stage pancreas cancer. Levels of GPC1+ crExos correlate with tumor burden and survival in patients pre- and post-surgical tumor resection. GPC1+ crExos from patients and from mice with spontaneous pancreas tumors driven by oncogenic KRAS contained RNA with specific KRAS mutation, and it emerges as a reliable biomarker for the detection of PanIN lesions despite negative signal by MRI in mice. GPC1+ crExos may serve as a potential non-invasive diagnostic and screening tool to detect early stages of pancreas cancer to facilitate possible curative surgical therapy.

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