Exosomes - tiny biological nanoparticles that can transfer information between cells - offer significant potential in detecting and treating disease, according to the most comprehensive overview so far of research in the field. Areas that could benefit include cancer treatment and regenerative medicine, say Dr. Steven Conlan from Swansea University (UK), Dr. Mauro Ferrari of Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas, and Dr. Inês Mendes Pinto from the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory in Portugal. Their commissioned paper, “Exosomes As Reconfigurable Therapeutic Systems,” was published on June 22, 2017 in Trends in Molecular Medicine. Exosomes are sub-cellular particles produced by all cells in the body and are from 30-130 nanometers in size. They act as biological signaling systems, communicating between cells, carrying proteins, lipids, DNA, and RNA. They drive biological processes, from modulating gene expression to transmitting information through breast milk. Though discovered in 1983, the full potential of exosomes is only gradually being revealed. The reviewers show that the possible medical benefits of exosomes fall into three broad categories: detecting disease - by acting as disease-specific biomarkers; activating immune responses to boost immunity; and treating diseases - serving as the vehicle for drugs, for example bearing cancer therapies as their payload, to target tumors. One of the most useful properties of exosomes is that they are able to cross barriers such as the plasma membrane of cells, or the blood/brain barrier. This makes exosomes well-suited to delivering therapeutic molecules in a very targeted way.
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