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Researchers in Spain Discover Influence of Exosomes on Macular Degeneration; Findings Suggest Possible Exosome-Based Liquid Biopsy for Diagnosis of AMD & Other Diseases

Researchers of the Neurobiology and Neurophysiology team of the Medicine Faculty at Valencia Catholic University (UCV), headed by Dr. Jorge Bacia, have discovered that exosomes – microscopic extracellular vesicles that are released by all cells – from the retinal pigment epithelium lead to cases of neovascularization, a finding that could be closely related to similar processes in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In this sense, the UCV researchers say that, in the future, diseases such as AMD will be diagnosed by “analyzing the exosomal content from a blood sample or other biological fluids.” The UCV Medicine Faculty team findings were published online on August 21, 2018 in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. The open-access article is titled “Role of Retinal Pigment Epithelium‐Derived Exosomes And Autophagy In New Blood Vessel Formation.” In the article, the UCV researchers explain how they observed that “if the pigment epithelium cells in the retina are subjected to stress, they release exosomes that facilitate the generation of new blood vessels, in an analogous way to what happens in AMD.” This excessive vessel growth is due to these exosomes containing “a high proportion of the VEGFR-2 protein.” AMD is a disease that causes vision loss and affects elderly people. The disease often becomes apparent with an ‘overgrowth’ of new blood vessels in this area, “vessels which are fragile and very permeable, creating alterations which lead to spots in central vision.” This process especially affects the macula, the retinal area which is responsible for acute vision, “which makes detailed vision more difficult, such as reading”.

“Until a few years ago, it was thought that the role of these vesicles was to release ‘cellular waste’ to the exterior. However, nowadays we know that exosomes contain genetic material, proteins, and lipids, so they can carry that material intact from one cell to another,” explain the UCV researchers.

Therefore, the discovery of exosomes has enabled “huge” progress in fields as diverse as oncology (exosomes play a relevant role in metastases), neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s), and even diseases that cause blindness. It has also been observed that the composition of the exosomes changes depending on their cellular origin and the state of health of the cell.

This article is based on an article published by R&I World of the RUVID Association. R&I World is part of the Internationalization of R&D Strategy adopted by RUVID in February 2014 and is also part of the Coordination Strategy and Action Plan of the Regional Government of Valencia in Horizon 2020. The Network of Valencian Universities for the promotion of Research, Development, and Innovation, RUVID, is a non-profit private organization that was born in December 2001 through a partnership agreement between the five public universities from the Valencian Region.

[RUVID article] [Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine article]