Integrating automated liquid handling in the separation workflow of extracellular vesicles enhances specificity and reproducibility

J Nanobiotechnology. 2023 May 19;21(1):157. doi: 10.1186/s12951-023-01917-z.


Background: Extracellular vesicles (EV) are extensively studied in human body fluids as potential biomarkers for numerous diseases. Major impediments of EV-based biomarker discovery include the specificity and reproducibility of EV sample preparation as well as intensive manual labor. We present an automated liquid handling workstation for the density-based separation of EV from human body fluids and compare its performance to manual handling by (in)experienced researchers.

Results: Automated versus manual density-based separation of trackable recombinant extracellular vesicles (rEV) spiked in PBS significantly reduces variability in rEV recovery as quantified by fluorescent nanoparticle tracking analysis and ELISA. To validate automated density-based EV separation from complex body fluids, including blood plasma and urine, we assess reproducibility, recovery, and specificity by mass spectrometry-based proteomics and transmission electron microscopy. Method reproducibility is the highest in the automated procedure independent of the matrix used. While retaining (in urine) or enhancing (in plasma) EV recovery compared to manual liquid handling, automation significantly reduces the presence of body fluid specific abundant proteins in EV preparations, including apolipoproteins in plasma and Tamm-Horsfall protein in urine.

Conclusions: In conclusion, automated liquid handling ensures cost-effective EV separation from human body fluids with high reproducibility, specificity, and reduced hands-on time with the potential to enable larger-scale biomarker studies.

Keywords: Automation; Blood; Density gradient centrifugation; Extracellular vesicles; Proteomics; Separation; Urine.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Extracellular Vesicles* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Proteins
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Workflow


  • Proteins
  • Biomarkers