By: Bonnie McLaughlin for IVitamin
Since the 1980s, scientists have been studying nanoparticles in our bodies that have the potential to not only aid in early diagnosis of major diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis, but also provide markers of success in treatments. These nanoparticles are called exosomes and their potential spans multiple areas including hair regrowth, immune system improvements, and tissue regeneration.
In this article, we’ve attempted to dig through all of the research to provide our readers with the best summation of what we know, what researchers are working on, and what could be just over the scientific horizon.
Let’s start with the basics, what are exosomes?
Exosomes are nanoparticles (teeny tiny particles defined as a particle of matter that is between 1 and 100 nanometers in diameter) that are about one millionth the size of a hair. These particles are constantly created by the cells in your body and then secreted into the liquids of your system (blood, urine, etc.) to then travel throughout your body to communicate and carry specific cargos to other cells.
When they were initially discovered in the 1980s, scientists mistakenly thought that exosomes simply carried discarded proteins throughout the body, but further research led scientists to discover that exosomes actually carry microRNA, or genetic material between cells. In some cases this material can improve cell function (like improving immune cells) but in cases where the cells have malfunctioned, like cancer cells, the exosomes can actually carry cancer signals to non-cancerous cells. In other words, exosomes are very powerful mediators and can actually change the behavior of the cells they come in contact with.
Need an analogy?
I saw it best described this way: If you consider New York City as an organism, then the buildings are the cells, the roads are the liquids in your body, and the yellow cabs are the exosomes, transmitting varied information all the way across the city. From the top of a skyscraper, they don’t seem like much at first glance, just a yellow dot moving through the web of streets, but on closer inspection, the yellow cabs transmit people, things, and information at an alarming rate and they are only tethered by the city (organism) itself.
So what makes exosomes so special?
Exosomes are unique because they carry biochemical markers about the cells they come in contact with. In other words, they can tell us about those cells and we can medical decisions based on those markers. And because exosomes can be extracted from your urine or blood, the ability to test these markers is incredibly non-invasive, which allows for earlier detection of cancers which could increase prognosis and ultimately, survival rates. In fact, scientists have successfully used exosomes to differentiate between patients with or without multiple sclerosis (MS) and then studied those with MS even further and were able to determine which patients’ MS was relapsing or progressing.
All from a drop of blood.
In fact, the National Institute of Health saw so much promise that in 2013, they pledged 130 million dollars in funding for further research, citing the ability to detect major diseases at vastly earlier stages than we do now as a major indicator of their potential.
How can we use this to our advantage?
The ability to dictate what cells an exosome communicates with and how it communicates with them presents a unique opportunity in disease prevention, detection, and treatment. Because they carry genetic material and signals for other cells, exosomes have the potential to influence the behavior of those cells. Therefor, exosomes can be used to stimulate tissue regeneration, heal wounds, boost immune systems, and prevent infections in some cases. Scientists are currently, with varied success, creating custom exosomes to deliver drugs targeted at cells harming the body as well as used those with immune-boosting materials to strengthen healthy cells in cancer patients. And while the results have been varied, they are optimistic that the methods can be altered for higher success.
In fact, a French team of scientists is currently using exosomes from immune cells to increase healthy cell counts to ward off attacks from cancer cells. They are still experimenting with exosomes used to target cancer cells and not healthy cells, something they hope to accomplish in the future that could change our entire treatment of cancer.
In addition, exosomes have the unique ability to facilitate tissue repair, which is why we’ve seen such an increase in exosome facials. Exosomes can stimulate collagen production, minimize the appearance of acne scars, and promote healing in damaged skin cells. When coupled with microneedling techniques, exosomes are able to penetrate the layers of skin more deeply, allowing for better results. IVitamin currently offers an “X-Rated Facial” utilizing this very technique to improve skin quality and promote renewal on a cellular level.
So now what?
The scientific community is working feverishly to figure out the best applications of exosome therapy. And with the support of major donors and the collaboration prevalent between research groups, the outlook is incredibly positive. Results already show potential in disease detection, success markers, and regenerative purposes, but scientists truly hope to use these amazing nanoparticles to “crack the code” of cancer cells and prevent unnecessary suffering. If the articles and research already present are any indicators, the future looks very promising.
Want more information about exosomes? Check out these links and stay tuned for more health and wellness blogs from IVitamin!!
This is a really cool YouTube series by Thermo Fisher Scientific:
And I really enjoyed this TedxTalk by Dr. Shivani Sharma as well:
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