New treatment approaches using miniature cells

Researchers going to use special cell types as drug carriers in the future – start of the research project “Ves4Us”

November 16, 2018

Modern drugs typically take effect in the whole body and not just at the parts to be treated. With the development of drug carriers in the nanometer range, scientists want to bring the active component to where it should have an effect in the future. For this purpose, the surfaces of the carriers are modified to allow a specific "docking". The carriers produced so far were made from biocompatible materials, such as e. g. starch. Nevertheless, the biocompatibility and the time the carriers circulate in the human body should be further increased in the future.

In the research project "Ves4Us", researchers from Italy, Ireland, Switzerland and Slovenia are now working on a new approach in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz. The project uses so-called "extracellular vesicles". These are "miniature cells", which are also produced in the human body every day. They are mainly used for inter-cell communication, so they are excreted by certain cells and taken up by other cells. In their characteristics, such as for example their surface, they are therefore very similar to "real" cells. As a result, the vesicles have the best prerequisites for a very good biocompatibility and the required long circulation time in the body.

The aim of the project "Ves4Us" is to generate extracellular vesicles in large quantities. Scientists around Dr. Svenja Morsbach, group leader at the MPI-P in Mainz, and Prof. Katharina Landfester, director at the MPI-P, work in the project to equip these vesicles with a kind of "address label", so that they can act in the body at precisely defined places. For this purpose, certain proteins are attached to the vesicle surface, which then allow in a sort of key-lock principle to dock the drug carrier to certain tissue types.

In addition to the surface modification, the vesicles produced by the cooperation partners are opened with suitable technical methods, filled with an active substance and then resealed.

"We will first test this with dye," says Svenja Morsbach. "If we can fill the vesicles reproducibly with dye, we can replace the dye with drugs and then test the effectiveness of the vesicles to treat various diseases."

The project runs for three years under the European Horizon2020 program FET-OPEN and will receive a total of 3 Mio. Euros. Of this, a share of 300.000 Euros is attributable to the work of the Mainz scientists.

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