Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are small lipid-enclosed particles that can carry various types of cargo, including proteins, nucleic acids and metabolites. They are known to be released by all cell types and can be taken up by other cells, leading to the transfer of the cargo they carry. As such, they represent an important type of intercellular signalling and a natural mechanism for transferring macromolecules between cells. This ability to transfer cargo could be harnessed to deliver therapeutic molecules. Indeed, a growing body of work has described the attempt by the field to utilise EVs to deliver a range of therapeutics including RNAi, CRISPR/Cas9 and chemotherapeutics, to a specific target tissue. However, there are numerous barriers associated with the use of EVs as therapeutic vehicles, including the challenge of efficiently loading therapeutics into EVs, avoiding clearance of the EVs from circulation, targeting the correct tissue type and the inefficiency of internalisation and functional delivery of the cargo. Despite these difficulties, EVs represent a tremendous therapeutic opportunity, both for the delivery of exogenous cargo as well as the therapeutic benefit of targeting aberrant EV signalling or treating patients with natural EVs such as those released by mesenchymal stem cells. Researchers from Oxford Brookes University describe current knowledge on the therapeutic potential of EVs and the challenges faced by the field. Many of these challenges are due to a lack of complete understanding of EV function, but further research in this area should continue to yield new solutions that will lead to the use of EVs in the clinic.
The challenges and possibilities of extracellular vesicles as therapeutic vehicles
Melling GE, Carollo E, Conlon R, Simpson JC, Raul Francisco Carter D. (2019) The Challenges and Possibilities of Extracellular Vesicles as Therapeutic Vehicles. Eur J Pharm Biopharm [Epub ahead of print]. [abstract]