Human sweat is an inexhaustible source of information – a method developed by researchers at the University of Oulu can even help identify signs of disease

Sweat and its nano-sized vesicles, or exosomes, that accumulate on a skin patch reveal information about the state of the body and can even reveal signs of various diseases. The method developed by researchers at the University of Oulu has potential applications not only in disease diagnostics but also in the pharmaceutical industry. 

Exosomes are small lipid bilayer vesicles that are rich in molecules such as proteins, RNA, DNA and cellular metabolites. Almost all cells in the body are capable of secreting exosomes. They are secreted in breast milk, sweat, etc. Analysing exosomes and the molecules they contain provides valuable information about the state of the body and tissues.

In a recent paper, researchers at the University of Oulu describe a new method for collecting, extracting and analysing exosomes from sweat. The study involved collecting sweat from healthy subjects and subjects with type 2 diabetes using a skin patch.

The invention is the result of a long-term research effort to develop non-invasive methods for health and disease monitoring suitable for clinical use.

"We started studying human sweat in 2013, and now the work is bearing fruit," says Professor Seppo Vainio who leads the research team. The research, which started with small-scale experiments, has expanded and the method, which is the result of a long-term development effort, can now be transferred to study larger patient populations, according to Vainio.

"The technology we have developed can be applied on a very large scale to a variety of clinical trials. Samples can be easily collected from patients, for example during check-ups, and stored in a biobank. It may also become possible to monitor patients' recovery," says Postdoctoral Researcher Nsrein Ali.

According to Vainio, sweat exosomes could be used not only to diagnose diseases but also to predict and prevent health risks. In addition, there are potential applications in the pharmaceutical industry. The ability of exosomes to cross many biological barriers in the body makes them ideal for transporting drugs to various tissues.

The study was recently published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences journal: Rahat ST, Mäkelä M, Nasserinejad M, Ikäheimo TM, Hyrkäs-Palmu H, Valtonen RIP, Röning J, Sebert S, Nieminen AI, Ali N, Vainio S. Clinical-Grade Patches as a Medium for Enrichment of Sweat-Extracellular Vesicles and Facilitating Their Metabolic Analysis. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2023; 24(8):7507.

The research has been funded by the Impact Foundation, Business Finland, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Academy of Finland as part of the GeneCellNano Flagship, among others.

Below: Extracellular vesicles imaged by electron microscope. Image: Biocenter Oulu, Electron Microscopy Core Facility

Last updated: 17.5.2023