Red blood cell-derived extracellular vesicles as nanocarriers

One of the most exciting advancements of modern medicine involves the use of tiny particles known as extracellular vesicles (EVs). These natural nanocarriers, produced by various types of cells, are capable of delivering therapeutic agents directly to target cells, opening up new possibilities for treating a wide range of diseases. One particularly promising type of EV comes from red blood cells (RBCs), the cells that transport oxygen throughout our bodies. These RBC-derived extracellular vesicles (RBCEVs) could represent the next generation of delivery systems for medical treatments.

What Are Extracellular Vesicles?

Extracellular vesicles are small, bubble-like structures released by cells that can carry molecules such as proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids. They play a crucial role in cell-to-cell communication by transferring these molecules to other cells, thereby influencing various biological processes. Because of their natural ability to deliver molecules, EVs are being explored as vehicles for therapeutic agents in medicine.

The Potential of RBCEVs

Red blood cells, like other cells, produce a limited number of EVs under normal and pathological conditions. Recently, scientists at the University of Urbino have suggested that EVs derived from RBCs could be particularly useful as delivery systems for therapeutic purposes. This is due to several unique features of RBCEVs:

  • Biological and Physicochemical Properties: RBCs have unique properties that make them efficient carriers of therapeutic molecules. They can be pre-loaded with various types of molecules, which are then encapsulated within the RBCEVs.
  • High Yield Production: A new method called “soft extrusion” has been developed to produce a high yield of RBCEVs loaded with therapeutic cargo. This method ensures that the vesicles are abundant and consistent in quality.

Characterizing RBCEVs

According to the latest guidelines (MISEV2023), RBCEVs have been thoroughly characterized. This characterization includes examining their size, biological features, membrane structure, and cargo. The results show that RBCEVs are highly homogeneous, meaning they are consistent in these key characteristics, which is essential for their effectiveness and safety as delivery vehicles.

In Vitro Success

Preliminary experiments conducted in vitro (in a controlled lab environment) have shown promising results. RBCEVs were efficiently internalized by human cells and exerted significant biological effects. For instance, when loaded with miR-210, a type of microRNA, and delivered to human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), the RBCEVs successfully inhibited a known target mRNA. This demonstrates their potential to carry and deliver RNA-based therapies effectively.

From Bench to Bedside

One of the most exciting aspects of this research is the potential to scale up the production process. What starts as a bench-scale experiment in the lab can be translated into clinical applications, paving the way for RBCEVs to be used in medical treatments for various diseases.

A New Horizon for RNA-Based Therapies

In conclusion, the investigation into RBCEVs could revolutionize the field of RNA-based therapies and other therapeutic cargo deliveries. By harnessing the unique properties of red blood cells and their derived extracellular vesicles, scientists are opening up new pathways for treating diseases more effectively and precisely. This biomimetic platform holds great promise for the future of medicine, offering hope for improved treatments and better outcomes for patients.

As we continue to explore and understand the potential of these tiny but powerful vesicles, the possibilities for their application in healthcare seem almost limitless. With ongoing research and development, RBCEVs could soon become a staple in the delivery of cutting-edge therapies, bringing us closer to a future where targeted and efficient treatment of diseases is a reality.

Biagiotti S, Canonico B, Tiboni M. et al. (2024) Efficient and highly reproducible production of red blood cell-derived extracellular vesicle mimetics for the loading and delivery of RNA molecules. Sci Rep [Epub ahead of print]. [article]

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