Background: Extracellular vesicles, such as exosomes, are abundantly present in human body fluids. Since the size, concentration and composition of these vesicles change during disease, vesicles have promising clinical applications, including cancer diagnosis. However, since ~70% of the vesicles have a diameter <70 nm, detection of single vesicles remains challenging. Thus far, vesicles <70 nm have only be studied by techniques that require the vesicles to be adhered to a surface. Consequently, the majority of vesicles have never been studied in their physiological environment. We present a novel label-free optical technique to track single vesicles <70 nm in suspension.
Method: Urinary vesicles were contained within a single-mode light-guiding silica fiber containing a 600 nm nano-fluidic channel. Light from a diode laser (660 nm wavelength) was coupled to the fiber, resulting in a strongly confined optical mode in the nano-fluidic channel, which continuously illuminated the freely diffusing vesicles inside the channel. The elastic light scattering from the vesicles, in the direction orthogonal to the fiber axis, was collected using a microscope objective (NA=0.95) and imaged with a home-built microscope.
Results: We have tracked single urinary vesicles as small as 35 nm by elastic light scattering. Please note that vesicles are low-refractive index (n<1.4) particles, which we confirmed by combining data on thermal diffusion and light scattering cross section.
Conclusions: For the first time, we have studied vesicles <70 nm freely diffusing in suspension. The ease-of-use and performance of this technique support its potential for vesicle-based clinical applications.