Pioneering next-generation extracellular vesicle therapeutics

Researchers at Loughborough University, led by Dr Owen Davies, are investigating the potential role that cell derived nanoparticles – called extracellular vesicles (EVs) – could play in further enhancing regenerative medicine.

These nanoparticles have natural roles in the transfer of biological molecules between all cells throughout the body, with their uptake directing cell function and downstream physiological processes.

Having generated some of the first publications on skeletal EVs and their application in regenerative medicine, the group is now pioneering EV-based solutions to combat real-world healthcare problems such as tissue repair/regeneration and targeted drug delivery.

The group is particularly interested in how EVs drive communication between cells and tissues of the musculoskeletal system and how these processes can be hijacked to develop new therapies.

EVs express a complex arrangement of molecules on their surface that act like a biological postcode. We are aiming to decipher this unique postcode to manufacture next generation drug delivery platforms for the treatment of clinically challenging diseases, such as bone cancers.

Dr Owen Davies

Research in focus

Understanding how EV particles can be applied for regenerative therapies

Having received an EPSRC New Investigator grant and Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Fellowship, the team are seeking to better understand the functions and therapeutic potential of EV particles derived from stem cells and cells of the musculoskeletal system.

By understanding and exploiting the natural bio-stimulatory properties of EVs, we can drive complex regenerative responses that are comparable to natural tissue development.

The precise content and function of EVs is dependent on the cells from which they are derived, as well as the local environmental from which they are derived. For example, we have demonstrated that cells grown in the presence of mineralising agents (e.g. calcium and phosphate) produce EVs with enhanced capacity to drive events required for bone regeneration.

By tailoring the environment in which cells are grown, the team aims to optimise the production of pro-regenerative EVs that could one day be applied to improve fracture healing, reduce back pain, or the effects of skeletal muscle loss during ageing.

  • Davies OG, et al. (2017). Annexin-enriched osteoblast-derived vesicles act as an extracellular site of mineral nucleation within developing stem cell cultures. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-13027-6
  • Nikravesh N, Davies OG, et al. (2019). Physical structuring of injectable polymeric systems to controllably deliver nanosized extracellular vesicles. Advanced Healthcare Materials, 8 (9): 1801604. DOI: 10.1002/adhm.201801604
  • Davies OG, et al. (2021). Spectroscopic profiling of variations in extracellular vesicle biochemistry in a model of myogenesis. Journal of Tissue Engineering. DOI: 10.1177/20417314211022092

How EVs can be used for the targeted delivery of drugs

The mechanisms through which EVs achieve the targeted transfer of molecules are only just beginning to be understood.

Researchers at Loughborough are starting to pick apart the biological composition of these particles to understand how natural EV transport mechanisms can be exploited for the targeted delivery of drugs and biologics to traditionally hard to reach diseases, such as bone cancers.

This work will further current understanding of how cells and tissues communicate at a fundamental level, while potentially opening up new avenues for site-specific drug delivery that could one day change the way we treat a variety of challenging and currently untreatable diseases.

  • Rankin-Turner S, Vader P, O'Driscoll L, Giebel B, Heaney LM, Davies OG. (2021). A call for the standardised reporting of factors affecting the exogenous loading of extracellular vesicles with therapeutic cargos. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews, 173: 479-491. DOI: 10.1016/j.addr.2021.04.012

Meet the expert

Dr Owen Davies is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular & Regenerative Biomedicine in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University. He is happy to discuss opportunities to collaborate on research focusing on cellular and molecular events underlying musculoskeletal development and regeneration.

His specific areas of current research include:

  • Defining the role of extracellular vesicles in tissue formation, regeneration and homeostasis
  • The development of novel extracellular vesicle therapeutics for tissue regeneration and targeted drug delivery
  • The application of cellular and acellular approaches for musculoskeletal tissue engineering
  • Stem cell biology and differentiation.

Find out more about Dr Owen Davies, his research journey and his work extracellular vesicles research, on our research webpages.

Dr Owen Davies

Dr Owen Davies

Senior Lecturer in Molecular & Regenerative Biomedicine