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Spring 2014
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Cellular Self-Help
Hope for tissue regeneration and cancer treatment.
Researchers have shed new light on how tissues repair themselves in times of cellular injury and offer hope for tissue regeneration as well as cancer treatment. Lead author Jason Aliotta, assistant professor of medicine and a researcher at Rhode Island Hospital, and his colleagues focused their work on microvesicles. These sub-cellular-sized particles contain genetic information such as messenger RNA and protein.

“What we attempted to understand is how cells within the bone marrow are able to repair organs that are unrelated to those bone marrow cells, such as the lung,” explains Aliotta. “Our work suggests that when lung cells are stressed or dying, they shed microvesicles. Those microvesicles are then consumed by cells within the bone marrow, including stem cells, which are present in small numbers within the circulatory system. Those bone marrow cells then turn into lung cells.”

While microvesicles have been known about for years, their significance has been overlooked until now. “We are now recognizing the relevance of microvesicles: they are important mediators of cell-to-cell communication,” says Aliotta. “What is unique to our research is the finding that microvesicles not only supply information to stem cells with lung injury, but with injury to other organs as well, like the heart, liver, and brain.”

Among the practical implications from their findings is the possibility that microvesicles could be used therapeutically. Says Aliotta, “Our hope is that if we were to deliver large numbers of microvesicles to [an] injured organ, it would help the repair process.”

The researchers also hypothesize that microvesicles could potentially be mediators of cancer metastasis. In cancer, there are higher levels of circulating microvesicles, which may be responsible for transferring the traits of the cancer to other organs. Aliotta notes, “If we can define the microvesicles that are shed from cancer cells, we can identify unique characteristics, which might help us to block their uptake into normal cells. This could, in theory, stop the metastasis of cancer.”

The paper appeared in the March issue of the journal Experimental Hematology.

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