A newly discovered cellular messaging mechanism could lead to a new way to deliver therapeutics to tissues affected by disease, according to a new study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Researchers found that a type of extracellular vesicle (EV) -- a membrane-bounded sac secreted by cells that contains proteins and RNA molecules -- known as ARMMs (ARRDC1-mediated microvesicles) also carries receptors that allow signaling without direct contact between cells. This capability may make ARMMs uniquely suited to be engineered to send therapeutics directly to affected areas of the body. "EVs are like messages in a bottle between cells," said senior author Dr. Quan Lu (photo), Associate Professor of Environmental Genetics and Pathophysiology. "We think that within the next few years, we may be able to swap the endogenous molecules in ARMMs for therapeutic cargos -- such as antibodies -- and to engineer ARMMs to home in on a particular tissue." The new study was published online on September 27, 2017 in Nature Communications. The open-access article is titled “Plasma Membrane-Derived Extracellular Microvesicles Mediate Non-Canonical Intercellular NOTCH Signaling.” There are an estimated 37 trillion cells in the human body -- and 100 times that many EVs. The EVs circulate in the blood and other bodily fluids and are involved in processes such as coagulation and the immune response. They can also be hijacked to spread cancer or viruses like HIV and Ebola.
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