Small things can take you virtually anywhere.
Recently Adrian Cioanca, Riccardo Natoli and I had the wonderful experience of attending the International Society of Extracellular Vesicles (ISEV) conference, held virtually from Philadelphia due to COVID-19. ISEV is the largest extracellular vesicle (EV) conference in the world, bringing together researchers and experts in the EV field to discuss experimental findings, technical insights, and novel developments. This was the first time we had attended ISEV, and was also our first virtual conference experience. Note to self, find a virtual conference in this hemisphere next time. 1am-7am livestream viewing was not easy!
For CVR, research into EV is a new adventure. Until April 2019 we had never even isolated a single retinal EV, and here we were a year later among prominent leaders in the field presenting our work on the role of EV in retinal degenerations. To provide a bit of background, EVs are small natural delivery vehicles produced by nearly all cell types, that function to transfer important genetic information from host to target cells to induce a biological response. Under normal conditions, EV communication maintains tissue health, however in disease EV communication can become dysregulated leading to pathological symptoms including increased inflammation and cell death.
Work investigating the role of EVs in the healthy and degenerating retina began, as all good science does, a bit unexpectedly. EV are incredibly small, 1000 times smaller than the width of a human hair and require technical expertise in order to isolate them from even relatively large tissues. Before we started this work, nobody has been able to isolate EV from the retina (probably due to the small size of the tissue), and we went in a bit unsure it would even work. We never imagined when we started this project that would get even one EV… but shockingly in our first test run using a modified extraction protocol and bit of luck we ended up with several billions!
In only a year we took this work from EV isolation, to demonstrating that EVs play integral roles in retinal degeneration.
This work has since been published, and was well received at ISEV. In fact, we won an award for the best poster abstract, which was amazing!
Future directions of this work are investigating the use of these EV as novel therapeutics for the treatment of retinal degenerations.
More details about our work can be found here.