MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ben Mead, BSc, MRes, PhD
Section of Retinal Ganglion Cell Biology
Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology
National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland 20892
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Retinal ganglion cells (RGC) in the back of the eye transmit visual information to the brain, via long thread-like extensions called axons, which make up the optic nerve. Loss of these cells is the leading cause of irreversible blindness and can occur through trauma or degenerative diseases, such as glaucoma or optic neuritis. While no treatment yet exists to directly protect RGC from death, mesenchymal stem cells, a type of stem cell isolated from adult bone marrow, have shown therapeutic efficacy in various animal models and are currently undergoing clinical trials.
In this study, we aimed to isolate exosomes, which are small, membrane-enclosed vesicles secreted by bone marrow stem cells (BMSC) and that we believe are associated with the therapeutic effect of BMSCs. Injecting these exosomes into the eyes of animals following an optic nerve injury, was associated with significant neuroprotection of RGC, as well as preservation of RGC function. The protective effects of exosomes appeared to be through their delivery of microRNA, molecules that interfere with or silence gene expression.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: While stem cells show great promise in a variety of therapeutic applications, it may be possible to replicate these results in a cell-free manner. Exosomes are stable packages of proteins, mRNA and microRNA that can be isolated from a variety of cells including BMSC. Unlike stem cells, exosomes are highly stable, can be dosed precisely and do not pose the risk of unwanted migration to an undesired target or proliferation. Importantly, exosomes contain microRNA, which can modulate the cellular expression of many proteins, thus providing a unique avenue for therapy.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Exosomes are generating increasing interest as it becomes apparent that they play considerable roles in cell-to-cell communication. Less attention has been given to the potential to harness these exosomes in a therapeutic capacity. More research is needed to determine their efficacy in treating different diseases, and also to understand their mechanism of action and identify key effector microRNA molecules.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: This work was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Eye Institute, part of NIH.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Mead, B. and Tomarev, S. (2017), Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells-Derived Exosomes Promote Survival of Retinal Ganglion Cells Through miRNA-Dependent Mechanisms. STEM CELLS Translational Medicine. doi: 10.1002/sctm.12056
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