Blizard Institute - Barts and The London

Q&A: Small extracellular vesicles have the ability to rejuvenate old cells and reduce tissue damage associated with the ageing process

Various studies are currently looking at ways to rejuvenate old cells using young donor cells or certain drugs, however many of these approaches are toxic or may have unwanted side effects such as cancer. In this study published in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers from the Epigenetics and Cellular Senescence Group at the Blizard Institute have demonstrated a much safer potential avenue using 'extracellular vesicles' released by young donor cells. In this Q&A, Dr Ana O’Loghlen describes the finding and the potential for future therapeutic use.

23 June 2020

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What is new about the study?

In this work we investigate novel strategies that could lead to improving wellbeing throughout life. As blood from young mice has the ability to rejuvenate old mice, we wanted to determine if extracellular vesicles (EV), balloon-like structures released by cells, were involved. We find that EVs from young donor cells rejuvenate certain features of ageing in mice and human cells, as they are very effective natural antioxidants.

Is there anything surprising about the results?

We have seen that EVs that are released by young cells have the ability to induce rejuvenation in cells derived from old people, cell isolated from children that have a disease which is an extreme form of ageing and even in mice that are very old (equivalent to 90 years old in humans).

Why is the study important?

Previous research has shown that blood from young mice was able to rejuvenate old mice. At present there are a few companies following this approach in humans. In my opinion, this is extremely dangerous as this includes blood cells that can cause blood cancer. Therefore, it’s important to find alternatives. Here, we are offering natural vesicles instead of blood cells, which are just ‘bags’ containing healthy material. They make old cells and tissues better, and do not have oncogenic properties at all.

What are the wider implications?

At present, there is a huge effort to determine pharmacological strategies to achieve rejuvenation. A lot of studies are looking into drugs that can “rejuvenate” but these drugs tend to be extremely toxic. Instead, EVs are a natural source that are released by healthy cells as therapy. They are easy to collect and safe and do not induce toxicity, thus this study opens new avenues for strategies to improve lifelong health and wellbeing.

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