MicroRNA nano-shuttles – engineering extracellular vesicles as a cutting-edge biotechnology platform for clinical use in therapeutics

Conceptual Illustration of EV-miRNAs Regulatory Role in Intercellular Communication Among Selected Reviewed Studies. Collectively, EV treatments have been implicated as a targeted approach in combating disease, as therapeutically-enhanced tiny particles with immense therapeutic potential in nanomedicine. Major areas of therapeutic interest include: tissue regeneration, oncology, as well as within various musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and neurological disorders

In recent years, the scientific community has been buzzing with excitement over extracellular vesicles (EVs). These tiny, membrane-bound particles, secreted by nearly all cells, are proving to be powerful tools in medicine, especially for drug delivery. But what exactly makes EVs so special, and how can they revolutionize the way we treat diseases? Researchers from the Colorado State University discuss the therapeutic potential of EV-coupled miRNAs; summarizing the biogenesis, contents, and function of EVs, as well as providing both a comprehensive discussion of current EV loading techniques and an update on miRNA-engineered EVs as a next-generation platform piloting benchtop studies to propel potential clinical translation on the forefront of nanomedicine

What Are Extracellular Vesicles?

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are nano-sized particles that cells naturally release. Think of them as tiny packages that carry a variety of active biomolecules, such as proteins, nucleic acids (like DNA and RNA), and even small pharmaceutical compounds. These biomolecules can influence the behavior and function of other cells, making EVs critical players in cell-to-cell communication.

The Unique Advantages of EVs

EVs come with several intrinsic advantages that make them ideal for use in medical treatments:

  1. Low Toxicity: Unlike some synthetic drug delivery systems, EVs are naturally occurring and generally well-tolerated by the body.
  2. Structural Stability: Their sturdy membrane allows them to protect their cargo as they travel through the body.
  3. High Cargo Loading Capacity: EVs can carry a significant amount of therapeutic materials, enhancing their effectiveness as delivery vehicles.

EVs in Drug Delivery

Given these benefits, researchers are exploring ways to harness EVs for delivering therapeutic agents directly to diseased cells. This could include drugs, genetic material, or even nanomaterials specifically designed to combat various diseases. By loading EVs with these therapeutic agents, scientists hope to create highly effective, targeted treatment options.

The Role of MicroRNAs in EVs

One of the most exciting aspects of EVs is their ability to carry microRNAs (miRNAs). These small, non-coding RNA molecules can regulate gene expression in recipient cells, making them powerful tools in influencing cell behavior. miRNAs can play a crucial role in numerous biological and pathological processes, from development and differentiation to disease progression.

Engineering EVs for Therapeutic Delivery

To fully leverage the potential of EVs, scientists are working on engineering them to carry therapeutic miRNAs directly to diseased cells. This involves loading EVs with specific miRNAs that can alter the disease state of recipient cells. For example, in cancer therapy, EVs could be engineered to deliver miRNAs that suppress tumor growth or enhance the body’s immune response against cancer cells.

Current Techniques and Future Prospects

Researchers have developed various techniques to load EVs with therapeutic agents. These include methods like electroporation (using electrical fields to introduce materials into EVs) and co-incubation (mixing EVs with the desired cargo under specific conditions). Each technique aims to maximize the loading efficiency and stability of the cargo.

The ongoing research and development in this field are paving the way for miRNA-engineered EVs to become a next-generation platform in nanomedicine. These tiny but mighty particles could soon move from the laboratory bench to clinical applications, offering new hope for treating a wide range of diseases.


Extracellular vesicles are at the forefront of a medical revolution, offering a novel and highly effective way to deliver treatments directly to where they are needed most. With their low toxicity, high stability, and significant cargo capacity, EVs have the potential to transform the landscape of drug delivery. As researchers continue to unlock their secrets, EVs could soon become a staple in the fight against many of the world’s most challenging diseases. The future of medicine may very well lie in these microscopic messengers.

Menjivar NG, Oropallo J, Gebremedhn S, Souza LA, Gad A, Puttlitz CM, Tesfaye D. (2024) MicroRNA Nano-Shuttles: Engineering Extracellular Vesicles as a Cutting-Edge Biotechnology Platform for Clinical Use in Therapeutics. Biol Proced Online 26(1):14. [article]

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