“I think public engagement explaining what we are doing to the general public, is a really good thing to start getting involved in just disseminating the work and putting on a level where people and patients can understand because at the end of the day the majority of our research is for the benefit of patients”Dr. Rachel Crossland
Dr. Rachel Crossland is a researcher in the institute cellular medicine at Newcastle University. Her research is mainly focus on extracellular vesicles as biomarkers for disease. She got into the field of EV when she was working on Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) which is a complication of haematopoietic stem cell transplantation. At the moment, there is no way in predicting the patient who are going to develop GVHD following a transplant and what her research team already know is that around about 50% of patients do develop GVHD after the transplant and around half of those die from the disease so it is a really serious complication. Dr. Crossland and her research has been working a lot to develop circulatory biomarkers for the disease and that is also how she came to the EV field.
How do EVs work as biomarkers?
Rachel Crossland: The way where we get the extracellular vesicles is we taking blood samples from patients, prior to their transplant, immediately after their transplant and at sequential time points because we do not really know when the extracellular vesicles profile patients might change post transplant and it is a complicated system that there are number of biological processes occurring in a patient just had a transplant so the way we study the EVs is we measure them in the sequential points and we start to look at the microRNA profiles and at which points those microRNAs profiles are different in a patient who do get GVHD to those who never develop GVHD.
Do you think that the world of EVs has grown in the last decade?
Rachel Crossland: I think it is massively growing. I used to try and keep on top of lot of the reading but that just impossible now, there is so many publications all the time and I think in the America and some of the company that is getting onboard with the use of EVs as therapeutic as well. It just seems to be exponentially growing as a field.
As it is growing, have you noticed a greatest sense of community among EV scientists?
Rachel Crossland: Absolutely, especially in the UK. I first came along to a UK EV meeting about 6 years ago and that is when I really looked about the UK EV field. It felt like a small community where you are in the same room with these experts where you have been reading their papers and hoping to have any kind of publication in their leads. They are at the same room, you can ask questions and it feels like a really supportive environment as well, there is a lot of encouragement of junior researchers which is great for me. And it is very much a collaborative environment and not the competitiveness that you see in some fields, and you do get the impression everyone is there to support each other which is really nice.
How do you think EV research can be beneficial to the public and do you think EVs can change the world?
Rachel Crossland: I love to say it can change the world because I love working in this field. I am not sure if that is a bit of bold statement but I do think that we can see the impact of EVs over the next decade. There are so much money behind developing them as drug delivery vehicles, as therapeutic targets, and they do not come with all that complication associated in working with cellular therapies so I do feel that we can start to see the impact of these in the wider general public in the next ten years.
Do you think is important for the public to know about EVs and also in other scientific research?
Rachel Crossland: Definitely, I think scientists had been observed by public who are busy in the lab, no body really knows what they doing. In the past you tend to see almost darker side of science. In my personal perspective, when you tell people you are a scientist, they think that is interesting but they do not really know what to ask about what you do and this is something that the general public do not have the understanding of. And I think public engagement explaining what we are doing to the general public, is a really good thing to start getting involved in just disseminating the work and putting on a level where people and patients can understand because at the end of the day the majority of our research is for the benefit of patients and we need to get patients onboard to help drive the questions.
In your own words, how would you describe EVs to someone who never heard about EVs before?
Rachel Crossland: I would describe EVs as the dark core of the biology world. There is not a lot known about them, it is a very new field but actually when you take the human body, nearly every cells in the body produce extracellular vesicles, their potential impacts are massive. And I would describe them as small communication vehicles so while you got this large cells doing very complex things, the extracellular vesicles are moving around communicating between the cells and I think in a lot of cases providing some of the backbone behind the biological processes.
Recently have you heard of any particular type of research that really fascinated you?
Rachel Crossland: I am really interested in microRNA aspect, I have studied microRNA as all of my time in science and so when I learned these tiny vesicles that can selective package microRNA and communicate them in a really targeting manner, you immediately question what selection is behind that microRNA packaging. And I find that really interesting, what is the role of those microRNAs, they are being protected within this vesicles and be able to travel around the whole body and influence all types of cells and tissues, and I just find it fascinating.
If you have a billion pounds, would that be the kind of research that you would like to invest?
Rachel Crossland: It will obviously be on EVs. In an ideal scenario, I would love to be able to take a patient who was just had a transplant and be able to monitor the patient throughout treatment. And if we could do that by monitoring microRNA profile, changing their prophylactic and some of their treatments therapy accordingly, that to me would be an amazing outcome.
What other kind of disease do you think EVs could be providing treatment for?
Rachel Crossland: In the project that I am involved in, we looking at the potential of EVs from mesenchymal stem cells and their therapeutic capacity. So with know that mesenchymal stem cell have amazing generative properties for a long time but there is an issue sometime with getting their potency to levels that gonna have an effect. There are issues with working with cellular therapies and actually the majority of the data that comes out recently suggested that it is not that mesenchymal stem cells itself that has therapeutic benefit, its derived from the secrete time of the mesenchymal stem cells. So we could start harnessing the potential power of EVs from stem cells and I think that opens up all sort of possibilities.