LIMS Explains: Extracellular Vesicles

If someone mentions EVs, most people immediately think electric vehicles. But to cell and molecular biologists, EVs are Extracellular Vesicles; a gateway to understanding how cells communicate with each other and a means to discover new therapies for diseases such as cancer.

What are Extracellular Vesicles (EVs)?

EVs are nanosized vesicles released by cells into the body. Packed with a rich and diverse cargo of biomolecules such as proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, EVs are shed by every living cell into extracellular space.

Discovered in the 1980s EVs were initially understood to be the garbage bags of cells, aiding in clearing unwanted biomolecules. More recent discoveries have shown that EVs play a crucial in biological processes.

Why are EVs important?

EVs are present in all biological fluids (milk, blood, urine, saliva, cerebrospinal fluid, etc.).

EVs mediate communication between cells throughout an individual’s body. And via the transfer of biological fluid they can enable communication between individuals e.g. through breast milk from a mother to a child. Even cross species communication can be facilitated via EVs, e.g. cow to human via consumption of the cow’s milk.

EVs play a variety of roles in maintaining health but they can also contribute to disease progression. For instance, EVs secreted by cancer cells have pro-tumorigenic/oncogenic function and can promote cell growth, proliferation and migration, leading to disease progression. In contrast, EVs in cow's milk have the ability to prevent growth of primary tumours in a human.

EVs carry a cargo that is reflective of their cell-type of origin. This means EVs can be used as biomarkers to monitor disease progression and provide ways to measure response to treatment.

Lastly, they show great promise as instruments of therapeutic delivery for cancer and other diseases.

What are LIMS researchers doing with EVs?

LIMS has multiple groups working on various EV subtypes and their roles in pathophysiological processes. EV research at LIMS focuses on understanding various aspects of EV biology such as EV biogenesis, secretion, cargo, biodistribution and their role in disease progression.

The studies range from exploring novel mediators to understanding the mechanisms involved in intercellular communication and signalling. LIMS researchers also look at the role of EVs in diseases such as cancers and neurogenerative disorders, as well as investigating novel EV based therapeutics.

What is the future for EV research?

EVs show great potential in treatments for diseases that are currently difficult to manage. Treatments using EVs often complement the existing standard-of-care therapeutics and improve their efficacy.

Scientific knowledge of EVs has grown exponentially in the last two decades but there are still knowledge gaps and technical limitations that need to be addressed for further progress of the field.

Learn more

Take a look at the La Trobe University Research Centre for Extracellular Vesicles.

Written by Rahul Sanwlani (Mathivanan Lab) and Kim Tillott