Simple adjustments can increase the production of a single cell’s extracellular vesicles

A minor modification to the way donor cells are processed can increase the production of a single cell’s extracellular vesicles. These are tiny nanoparticles that are naturally released by cells, as per new research by researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago.

This discovery opens up new research opportunities in cell-based therapies. Cellular therapies use transplanted stem cells or immune cells from donors or patients to enhance the body’s ability to heal and function better. Patients and their doctors want the best possible potency. For lung-related injuries such as those caused by acute respiratory distress syndrome, treatments that use extracellular vesicles have demonstrated promise however, they are expensive and limited by the amount of donated cells needed to reach the therapeutic level.

The researchers led by Jae-Won Sun has been investigating how extracellular vesicles work. Through experiments, they discovered that altering the substance in which the donor cells are processed can significantly impact the potency of extracellular vesicles.

We were very surprised that a seemingly minor environmental change could have such a profound impact. This indicates that cells interact in different ways in different tissues, and how they release extracellular fluids, and how they affect other cells.

Jae-Won Shin is an assistant professor at UIC in the department pharmacology and regenerative medicine. She also works in the department biomedical engineering

The key, they found was using a soft hydrogel that is more similar to the natural environment of tissues to prepare the particles. When they compared the particles that were cultivated from cells in traditional materials with those cultured in a softer material, they found that extracellular vesicles are produced in greater numbers in the soft substrate.

“In the stiff substrates, cytoskeletal structures in cells are dense and less flexible. This makes it difficult for extracellular vesicles to leave the cells. However, in the soft substrate the structures are less dense, more bendable and more spread out, making the environment more conducive to the release of particles by cells,” said first author Stephen Lenzini, a UIC student who worked on the study in Shin’s lab as graduate student.

Shin said, “That’s why there are fewer donor cells needed to make the same amount of particles.”

They also examined the therapeutic properties of particles created by the different materials. They discovered that extracellular vesicles that were made from a softer substrate were more efficient in aiding repair processes than those made from hard substrates.

“Understanding this opens the door to a variety of new avenues of investigation for clinical and laboratory trials of treatments that use donor extracellular vesicles in order to repair damaged tissues, as is seen in the lungs of certain COVID-19 patients who face complications such as ARDS,” he said.

Journal reference:

Lenzini, S., and. (2021) Cell-Matrix Interactions Control Functional Extracellular Vesicle Secretion from Mesenchymal Stromal Cells. ACS Nano.

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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