Targeting extracellular vesicle delivery to the lungs by microgel encapsulation

J Extracell Biol. 2023 May 31;2(6):e94. doi: 10.1002/jex2.94. eCollection 2023 Jun.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted by stem and progenitor cells have significant potential as cell-free 'cellular' therapeutics. Yet, small EVs (<200 nm) are rapidly cleared after systemic administration, mainly by the liver, presenting challenges targeting EVs to a specific organ or tissue. Microencapsulation using natural nano-porous hydrogels (microgels) has been shown to enhance engraftment and increase the survival of transplanted cells. We sought to encapsulate EVs within microgels to target their delivery to the lung by virtue of their size-based retention within the pulmonary microcirculation. Mesenchymal stromal cell (MSC) derived EVs were labelled with the lipophilic dye (DiR) and encapsulated within agarose-gelatin microgels. Endothelial cells and bone marrow derived macrophages were able to take up EVs encapsulated in microgels in vitro, but less efficiently than the uptake of free EVs. Following intrajugular administration, microgel encapsulated EVs were selectively retained within the lungs for 72h, while free EVs were rapidly cleared by the liver. Furthermore, microgel-loaded EVs demonstrated greater uptake by lung cells, in particular CD45+ immune cells, as assessed by flow cytometry compared to free EVs. Microencapsulation of EVs may be a novel tool for enhancing the targeted delivery of EVs for future therapeutic applications.

Keywords: biodistribution; biomaterials; extracellular vesicles; microencapsulation; pulmonary circulation.