Durham, NC - August 5, 2016 - The medical world may be one step closer to an affordable, effective therapeutic vaccine for hepatitis C virus (HCV), according to a new study appearing in the latest issue of Stem Cells Translational Medicine. The study, by scientists at Second Military Medical University in Shanghai, showed how exosomes secreted from umbilical mesenchymal stem cells (uMSC) efficiently suppressed HCV infection.
Chronic hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems. Worldwide, 700,000 people die each year from HCV-related liver diseases, according to the World Health Organization. While newly developed antiviral medicines could cure approximately 90 percent of those with HCV infection, access to diagnosis and treatment is limited and there is currently no vaccine to prevent it.
There are other issues, too, according to Zhongtian Qi, Ph.D., M.D., the SCTM study’s lead investigator. “Though the development of these antivirals has improved the response rate in HCV patients, new more effective anti-HCV agents that also have better tolerance and cheaper production costs are still urgently needed,” he said.
His research team wanted to see if a cell-based therapy might provide the answer. “Cell-based therapy is of great interest to us because of exosomes, miniscule fluid-filled sacs that can transfer information and thereby affect immune responses to specific antigens,” Dr. Qi explained.
Research into exosomes roles in pathogen infection is still in the early stages, but reports have shown that exosomes, among other desirable properties, can shuttle protective host molecules between cells. Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) produce high amounts of exosomes. Collecting MSCs from umbilical cord is a relatively low-cost, non-invasive procedure – the uMSCs that Dr. Qi’s team used came from umbilical cord donated by five healthy mothers after natural childbirth. These cells also expand easily and their physiological properties could be preserved under cryostorage.
“This all added up to make us wonder how uMSC exosomes might affect HCV,” Dr. Qi said.
The results were promising. The study showed that exosomes secreted from uMSC inhibited HCV infection in lab culture – “mainly, we think, because it targeted the virus as it tried to replicate,” Dr. Qi said.
“Another positive outcome was that the uMSC also had a synergistic effect when combined with FDA-approved anti-HCV drugs like interferon or telaprevir. Our study demonstrated for the first time that uMSC exosomes were capable of preventing HCV infection, providing new insights and prospects for the development of optimal antiviral agents in the future.”
“As the first study to identify exosomes with antiviral potency, this research suggests the potential for a new therapy for hepatitis C to address some of challenges with current treatment, including non-response in some patients and side effects, said Anthony Atala, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Stem Cells Translational Medicine and director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
The full article, “Exosomal miRNAs derived from umbilical mesenchymal stem cells inhibit hepatitis C virus infection,” can be accessed here.