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Cellular messaging system may bring new way to treat disease

Sept. 27 (UPI) — Harvard University researchers have discovered a cellular messaging mechanism that could provide a new way to deliver therapeutics to diseased tissue.

Researchers found that a type of extracellular vesicle, or EV, allows signaling without direct contact between cells. The EV, a sac secreted by cells that contain protein and RNA molecules, known as ARMMs also carry receptors that allow the signaling without contact.

“EVs are like messages in a bottle between cells,” Quan Lu, associate professor of environmental genetics and pathophysiology at Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “We think that within the next few years, we may be able to swap the endogenous molecules in ARMMs for therapeutic cargos — such as antibodies — and to engineer ARMMs to home in on a particular tissue.”

EVs circulate in the blood and other bodily fluids and are involved in coagulation and immune response, but they can also be used to spread cancer or HIV or Ebola.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, found that ARMMs contain molecules used for NOTCH signaling, a type of intercellular communication that typically involves cell-to-cell contact. NOTCH receptors are plasma membrane proteins involved in embryonic development, stem cell function and tissue homeostasis.

Researchers found that ARMMs are capable of making NOTCH receptor signaling at a distance.

“Our research on ARMMs has tremendous potential for therapeutics and public health,” Lu said. “It will likely be at least 10 years before we see these methods used in a clinical setting, but the path forward is clear.”

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