Extracellular vesicles (EVs)--nanometer-sized messengers that travel between cells to deliver cues and cargo--are promising tools for the next generation of therapies for everything from autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases to cancer and tissue injury. EVs derived from stem cells have already been shown to help heart cells recover after a heart attack, but exactly how they help and whether the beneficial effect is specific to EVs derived from stem cells has remained a mystery. Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have unraveled potential mechanisms behind the healing power of EVs and demonstrated their capacity to not only revive cells after a heart attack, but to keep cells functioning while deprived of oxygen during a heart attack. The researchers demonstrated this functionality in human tissue using a heart-on-a-chip with embedded sensors that continuously tracked the contractions of the tissue. The team also demonstrated that these EVs could be derived from endothelial cells, which line the surface of blood vessels and are more abundant and easier to maintain than stem cells. The research was published in the October14, 2020 issue of Science Translational Medicine (https://stm.sciencemag.org/content/12/565/eaax8005). The article is titled “Endothelial Extracellular Vesicles Contain Protective Proteins and Rescue Ischemia-Reperfusion Injury in a Human Heart-On-Chip.” “Our organ-on-chip technology has progressed to the point where we can now fight drug targets instead of fighting the chip design,” said Kit Parker, PhD, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at SEAS and senior author of the study.
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