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There's a New Way to Deliver Multiple Sclerosis Drugs to the Brain

December 6, 2017

Researchers from the UIC College of Medicine have received a seed grant which will allow them to develop a new method for the delivery of drugs in multiple sclerosis treatments. Researchers Ernesto Bongarzone and Maria Givorgi received a $300,000 one-year Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust Awards Programs 2017 Catalyst Award.

These researchers are interested in turning tiny “bubbles”, otherwise known as naturally occurring extracellular vesicles given off by a range of cell types, into targeted delivery vehicles for drugs to treat MS.

Cells, especially those that are distant, communicate with each other through extracellular vesicles, amongst other ways. Proteins, molecules and bits of RNA can be packaged into vesicles. These all travel throughout the bloodstream, cerebrospinal fluid and extracellular fluids until they fuse with their target cell and dump their cargo. Although, these contents are not always harmless, they may play a significant role in spreading disease as well. Givorgi says there is still much more to learn about how they function this way, as well as their role in cancer metastasis.

Bongarzone and Givorgi will be using their award to test methods to optimize the production of extracellular vesicles from mesenchymal stem cells and tag them with receptors that will eventually allow the vesicles to bind to specialized cells called oligodendrocytes in the brain and spinal cord. Oligodendrocytes are responsible for producing the insulating myelin sheath that surrounds the nerve cells, and in MS, these cells are lacking the production of myelin.

Givorgi explains, “Mesenchymal stem cells are already prolific producers of extracellular vesicles.”

The researchers will apply for further funding once they can reliably produce extracellular vesicles that bind specifically to the oligodendrocytes and test their safety and activity in mice. Once they have more funding, they will incorporate a small molecule of RNA, that has been shown to help boost the production of myelin in oligodendrocytes.

Bongarzone said, “Using extracellular vesicles lets us send drugs across the blood-brain barrier, which many other therapeutic agents cannot cross,” He said another benefit would be that the mesenchymal stem cells can be taken from a patient and used to generate vesicles for drug delivery, which would remove issues of rejection.

(Via https://today.uic.edu/a-new-way-to-deliver-multiple-sclerosis-drugs-to-the-brain)