Surface-engineered extracellular vesicles for targeted delivery of therapeutic RNAs and peptides for cancer therapy

Theranostics. 2022 Apr 11;12(7):3288-3315. doi: 10.7150/thno.68667. eCollection 2022.


The advent of novel therapeutics in recent years has urged the need for a safe, non-immunogenic drug delivery vector capable of delivering therapeutic payloads specifically to diseased cells, thereby increasing therapeutic efficacy and reducing side effects. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have garnered attention in recent years as a potentially ideal vector for drug delivery, taking into account their intrinsic ability to transfer bioactive cargo to recipient cells and their biocompatible nature. However, natural EVs are limited in their therapeutic potential and many challenges need to be overcome before engineered EVs satisfy the levels of efficiency, stability, safety and biocompatibility required for therapeutic use. Here, we demonstrate that an enzyme-mediated surface functionalization method in combination with streptavidin-mediated conjugation results in efficient surface functionalization of EVs. Surface functionalization using the above methods permits the stable and biocompatible conjugation of peptides, single domain antibodies and monoclonal antibodies at high copy number on the EV surface. Functionalized EVs demonstrated increased accumulation in target cells expressing common cancer associated markers such as CXCR4, EGFR and EpCAM both in vitro and in vivo. The functionality of this approach was further highlighted by the ability of targeting EVs to specifically deliver therapeutic antisense oligonucleotides to a metastatic breast tumor model, resulting in increased knockdown of a targeted oncogenic microRNA and improved metastasis suppression. The method was also used to equip EVs with a bifunctional peptide that targets EVs to leukemia cells and induces apoptosis, leading to leukemia suppression. Moreover, we conducted extensive testing to verify the biocompatibility, and safety of engineered EVs for therapeutic use, suggesting that surface modified EVs can be used for repeated dose treatment with no detectable adverse effects. This modular, biocompatible method of EV engineering offers a promising avenue for the targeted delivery of a range of therapeutics while addressing some of the safety concerns associated with EV-based drug delivery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods
  • Extracellular Vesicles* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Leukemia*
  • Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Peptides


  • Peptides