Applied Exosome Research

Suddenly, these small vesicles, once considered a form of waste disposal, are now recognized as a form of stealth extracellular communication. From their plasmalemma-derived lipid bilayer to their curated cargoes, exosomes are piquing interest as disease biomarkers and targeted nanoparticle delivery systems. 

Most, if not all, cells release exosomes, and the cargoes contained within those exosomes can indicate cell health. Examining exosomal cargoes can reveal a glimpse of the cells’ motives: Are they sending ‘all clear’ or SOS distress signals? Exosomes may be isolated from fluid samples known as liquid biopsies and analyzed to identify biomarkers of disease. Since liquid biopsies are less invasive than other biopsy methods, they can be retrieved more frequently and with less disruption to patients’ lives, enabling a level of disease monitoring not previously possible. Exosomes can also be used to evaluate therapeutic response and disease relapse before other methods. 

Others are harnessing exosomes’ bio-familiar lipid bilayer as a shell for other, more difficult-to-introduce compounds. Research into using exosomes as nanoparticle delivery systems is rapidly growing, along with the boundaries of what can permeate cell membranes. Exosome nanoparticles enable the therapeutic use of larger, non-polar or hydrophobic molecules, as well as molecules that may cause systemic toxicity. As exosomal cargoes, cells will more readily take them up, allowing exosomes to exert their effects in a highly targeted manner.

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