Meet the exosome, the rising star in drug delivery

From Chemical & Engineering News by Ryan Cross

Companies are hoping to use the vesicles to package small-molecule, protein, and RNA drugs or even use them as therapies themselves

Millions of tiny bubbles, released from cells and packaged with molecular mail, are racing through your bloodstream right now. And until recently, only a handful of researchers gave them any thought.


Exosomes can deliver therapies into cells that would otherwise be hard to reach.

Stephen J. Gould is one of those scientists. For more than a decade, Gould has devoted significant time and resources to understanding the curious cellular couriers. Called exosomes, these lipid vesicles shuttle proteins and genetic information between both neighboring and distant cells. “They are just a ubiquitous fact of our biology,” the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professor says.

Now they’re positioned to become a widespread tool for drug delivery.

Scientists have known about exosomes for decades, but as recently as 2006, only 508, mostly obscure, papers referred to them, according to PubMed. Today, a search on the site brings more than 8,000 hits, including several high-profile publications from the past year.

That research explosion is due, in part, to Swedish scientist Jan Lötvall from the University of Gothenburg. Exosomes had long been viewed as merely tiny trash sacs tossed from cells…

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