Multiple Sclerosis Drug Delivery Research Targets Extracellular Vesicles

Increasing myelin production by targeting oligodendrocytes shows promise as a treatment for multiple sclerosis.

Researchers from the University of Illinois College (UIC) of Medicine recently received a grant to develop a novel drug delivery method that shows promise for multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a university press release.

The $300,000 Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust Awards Programs 2017 Catalyst Award will help further the study of extracellular vesicles for the delivery of MS drugs, according to the release.

The investigators said that the naturally occurring vesicles can be transformed into targeted drug delivery vehicles.

“Extracellular vesicles are secreted by lots of cells, and they closely reflect the identity of the cell from which they came,” said Ernesto Bongarzone, PhD, professor of anatomy and cell biology at UIC. “If we can manipulate these vesicles to fuse with a specific cell type and carry a therapeutic agent or drug, they can be a powerful weapon against a variety of diseases.”

Many types of cells use extracellular vesicles for communication. The vesicles also package materials, including proteins and RNA, and travel through the bloodstream, cerebrospinal fluid, and extracellular fluids until they reach their target and unload their contents, according to the release.

However, the contents of the vesicles may also contain harmful materials.

“They may play a significant role in spreading disease as well,” said Maria Givogri, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology at UIC. “There is much more to learn about how they function in this way, including their role in cancer metastasis.”

The researchers plan to use the award to explore methods to increase the production of extracellular vesicles from mesenchymal stem cells. The vesicles will then be tagged with receptors that allow them to bind to oligodendrocytes in the brain and spinal cord, according to the release.

“Mesenchymal stem cells are already prolific producers of extracellular vesicles,” Dr Givogri said.

Oligodendrocytes produce myelin, which surrounds nerves. In MS, oligodendrocytes do not create enough myelin and cause severe adverse events, making these cells a possibility for targeted treatment.

Once they are able to engineer extracellular vesicles that bind to oligodendrocytes and test its safety in mice, the researchers will conduct additional studies to incorporate microRNA, according to the release. MicroRNA has been found to increase myelin production in oligodendrocytes, which may be beneficial against MS.

“Using extracellular vesicles lets us send drugs across the blood-brain barrier, which many other therapeutic agents cannot cross,” Dr Bongarzone said. “Another benefit is that we can take mesenchymal stem cells from a patient and use them to generate vesicles for drug delivery, which will remove issues of rejection.”