What Are Exosomes? A Look at Emerging Science

Posted and filed under Stem Cell Research.

In order to tell other parts of the body how to react, cells must be able to communicate. For many years, scientists have known that cells do this through chemical secretion, which releases a message to other cells. It wasn’t until recently, however, that researchers discovered the ability to deliver these messages through extracellular vesicles.

In some cases, these extracellular vesicles bud directly from a cell membrane. In other instances, tinier vesicles are assembled inside the cell before being released through the membrane. These are called exosomes, and they carry sophisticated RNA.

What Do Exosomes Do?

Recent studies tell us that exosomes play a critical role in cell-to-cell communication. Exosomes formed by specific cells can perform multiple functions, including exerting positive effects on tissue regeneration. Yet, not all exosomes are good: viruses, too, rely on these cellular pathways to communicate and replicate. In other words, infected cells also use exosomes to progress diseases.

Exosomes & Their Potential Power

Most recently, research has confirmed that cellular communication via exosomes is the process through which infectious diseases like malaria progress. Traditionally, high levels of viruses or bacteria in the blood were needed for accurate disease detection. Now, however, researchers believe that monitoring changes in exosomes – which are always present in human plasma – could aid in the ability to diagnose submicroscopic infections.

Yet, the potential impact of exosomes on modern medicine extends far beyond diagnostics. Secreted exosomes derived from stem cells could hold serious therapeutic potential for many conditions. Using stem cells as a therapy for conditions such as liver disease, for instance, shows significant potential. Stem cell-secreted exosomes present a cell-free form of therapy.

Unlike their parent cells, the exosomes are smaller, less complex, and easier to produce and store. Researchers are also exploring the potential of stem cell-secreted exosomes for treating conditions like autoimmune uveitis, an inflammatory eye condition. Additionally, the process is being looked into as a cell-free therapy for organ repair. In conditions such as cardiovascular disease, damaged tissue is unable to repair itself. Exosomes derived from stem cells could aid in myocardial repair, according to recent research. They have also been recently implemented as a way to track the progression of spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), including the way its patients respond to treatments.

Because exosome studies are still being performed, the full impact these powerful vesicles will have on medicine is still unknown. However, based on the sheer volume of exosome research currently being conducted, it’s clear that scientists believe they could hold the answers to some of our most pressing medical questions.

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